Heart Health

Ten tips to take your heart health into your hands

Each year, approximately 460,000 of the 1.1 million Americans who experience heart attacks die before they can get to the hospital. It’s not too early for you to take action. Here are ten quick tips.

1. Best prevention tip: get tested

Heart attack symptoms may occur days, weeks or even months before a fatal attack happens. Many heart attacks, especially in women, occur without chest pain. See your primary care physician immediately if you experience:

  • severe fatigue, weakness or anxiety, especially after exertion
  • unexplained pain or pressure in your shoulders, arms, back, neck, jaw or stomach
  • nausea or light-headedness
  • throat discomfort, shortness of breath
  • chest pressure, squeezing or fullness that comes and goes
  • cold sweats or heart flutters
  • feelings of impending doom
  • Your provider may order an EKG or blood enzyme test that can detect a heart problem.

2. Best heart protector: salmon

Salmon contains heart-healthy fats like those found in olive oil. Omega-3 fatty acids can raise good HDL cholesterol levels and help you prevent heart disease, irregular heartbeat, heart attack and stroke. Poached, baked or broiled, salmon is best for you.

Adding a serving of salmon, albacore tuna or lake trout (3.5 ounces) to your diet twice a week also provides you with a lean source of protein, calcium, vitamin B2 and D.

If you have high triglycerides, ask your health care provider about fish oil supplements that contain DHA / EPA. In some instances, they have been shown to lower triglycerides 5 to 10 percent.

If you have high triglycerides, ask your health care provider about fish oil supplements that contain DHA / EPA. In some instances, they have been shown to lower triglycerides 5 to 10 percent.

3. Best cooking tip: change your oil

Simply substituting olive oil or sesame seed oil or for corn and vegetable oil can help you lower your blood pressure. Both are rich in monounsaturated fats – which may help block LDL cholesterol formation on the inside of your arteries.

Remember, oil is still fat; so use it wisely.

It would be unwise to completely eliminate fat from our diets. Actually our bodies need some fat to produce energy and absorb fat-soluble vitamins. Babies and young children need fat for their bodies to grow and develop.

The problem with fat is that we often eat too much, or we eat the wrong types of fat. Two types of fat that you should avoid are saturated fat and trans fats.

Saturated fats raise your LDL or bad cholesterol which is the fatty substance in the blood that can clog arteries. Saturated fats are in a solid state at cooler temperatures and are usually from animal sources. Examples of saturated fat are butter, lard and the fat layer that rises to the top of your home-made soup or gravy. Some oils from plants, are also considered saturated fats. Coconut and palm oil are in this category.

Trans fats also raise you LDL which can lead to coronary artery disease. These fats are used to keep food fresher longer. They are often found in processed and pre-packaged foods, vegetable shortenings and some margarines. On the ingredient list you will find these foods referred to as hydrogenated, or partially hydrogenated oils.

4. Best muscle-building exercise: crunches

Strong abs equal more abdominal muscle and less belly fat, which lowers your risk of heart disease.

Of course strengthening your abs is just one component of reducing belly fat. Eating a healthy diet and exercising to become fit and maintain a healthy weight are also key. But just weighing less is no guarantee.

The amount of fat carried around your middle, whether thin or overweight, has become a predictor of heart attack risk. This fat is often visceral fat which changes the way the body processes cholesterol. An article entitled,Belly Fat May Raise Odds of Early Death for Thin Heart Patients from Medline Plus, cites the results of a meta-analysis that studied data involving 15,000 patients. The findings showed that “people of normal weight with belly fat were 27 percent more likely to die than patients considered obese as measured by BMI, but who had less belly fat.”

The article went on to quote, Dr. David Katz, director of the Yale University Prevention Research Center, as saying, “The simple reality is that BMI is a crude measure of both fatness and fat distribution. It is excess body fat in the wrong places that raises the risk of mortality and morbidity.”

5. Best beverage: water

Drinking five or more glasses of water a day can help lower your risk of heart disease by up to 60 percent – so says the results of a study done at Loma Linda University. The study compared the health of people with high-intakes of water (5 or more glasses as day) to people who only drank 2 glasses a day.

Water is important for your body to function properly, as a matter of fact, your body weight is 60 percent water.

Our bodies need water to: carry nutrients and oxygen to the cells, protect organs and tissues, absorb water soluble vitamins, keep mucous membranes moist, flush toxins from the liver and kidneys, lubricate joints, regulate body temperature and prevent constipation.

Our bodies lose water everyday – this liquid needs to be replenished. According to Mayo Clinic, men need to replace about 13 cups or 104 ounces of liquid per day; women need to replace 9 cups or 72 ounces of liquid. (These amounts may need to be adjusted due to climate, activity level and other health conditions.) While water is often the easiest way to replenish the loss, the amount of liquid consumed can also include other types of beverages and foods with high-water content, like watermelon.

An easy way to add extra water to your day is to drink water with each meal and drink a glass between meals. The extra water will help you feel full. Many times we feel hungry when our body is just asking for a bit of hydration. If we eat at those times, we may pack on additional pounds, which can cause stress on our hearts.

The important thing to remember is that our bodies need water to function properly, so make sure you are well hydrated for peak performance.

6. Best pizza topping: extra tomato sauce

The lycopene in tomatoes may help prevent the oxidation of cholesterol and prevent harmful buildup of cholesterol on artery walls.

While there may be conflicting reports about the role of antioxidants in health, it is obvious that eating more natural and colorful foods, like those containing lycopene, is a good choice.

Fruits and vegetables with deep or vibrant colors, like pink grapefruit, cantaloupes, guava and tomatoes are usually more nutrient dense than other foods. It is important to include them in your diet as much as possible for optimum health.

7. Worst food ingredient: trans fat

Researchers agree that trans fats lower healthy HDL and raise artery-blocking LDL cholesterol, putting you at increased risk for cardiovascular disease. Trans fats may also increase triglycerides and increase inflammation.

Trans fats are created when hydrogen is added to oil. This is done to make the oil last longer without spoiling. Unfortunately, this hydrogenation also seems to increase cholesterol levels in people who consume them.

Trans fat on grocery store shelves is fairly easy to identify. You’ll find food labels listing trans fat as shortening, partially hydrogenated vegetable oil or hydrogenated vegetable oil. However, if there are only .05 grams of trans fat in a food product, the nutrition label may say zero grams of trans fat. Always look at the ingredient list to be sure.

Also note, that if you’re not at the grocery store – neither restaurants nor bakeries are required to list the amount of trans fat in the foods that they prepare. If you want to know if trans fats are used, you will have to ask.

8. Worst habit: smoking

People exposed to cigarette smoke for just 30 minutes, three times a week have a 26 percent greater risk of developing heart disease.

Smoking damages almost every organ and system in your body. It causes immediate changes in your circulatory system by causing your heart rate and blood pressure go up as the chemicals thicken and narrow your blood vessels.

It causes your blood to become sticky, which may allow clots to form. It also increases LDL and decreases HDL, which may cause a build-up of plaque in your arteries leading to heart attack and stroke.

Smoking does this and so much more. You can avoid all of smoking’s harmful effects by quitting.

9. Worst season for heart attacks: winter

According to a study by cardiologists Bryan Schwartz of the University of New Mexico and Robert A. Kloner of the Heart Institute at the Good Samaritan Hospital in Los Angeles, who reviewed 1.7 million death certificates filed from 2005 through 2008, there is a 26 to 36 percent greater death rate for heart attacks in the winter than in summer no matter where a person lives in North America. Murray Mittleman, director of the cardiovascular Epidemiology Research Unit at Harvard Medical School reported similar statistics in Hawaii where the climate is moderate year round.

This may be due to less sunlight, colder temperatures, holiday stress, eating holiday food, drinking more alcohol, consuming more salt, less exercise, financial stress, cheering for a favorite sports team or colds and flu – there is no conclusive reason why, but whether people live in the northern hemisphere or the southern hemisphere, when winter arrives heart attack increase.

But, don’t stop enjoying the outdoors if you live in a colder climate. Be aware: if you experience symptoms of heart attack seek medical care immediately.

Warm up for winter exercise. Realize that shoveling, skiing, snowshoeing, even pushing a snow blower, can increase blood pressure and heart rate, while cold temperatures can constrict blood vessels and decrease oxygen to the heart. This adds stress to your heart. When these things happen simultaneously to someone with blocked arteries or heart disease the results can be life-threatening.

Here are some practical tips for working or exercising in winter from the American Heart Association.

  • Take a break during strenuous activity.
  • After outdoor exertions, don’t eat a heavy meal. This can add stress to your heart.
  • Use a smaller shovel or a lighter snow blower if you need to move snow.
  • Listen to your body. It may be giving you the warning signs of heart attack.
  • Don’t drink alcohol if you are going to work outside in the cold.
  • Dress in layers and make sure you stay warm. Sometimes it is helpful to place a scarf over your mouth so the air you breathe is warmed a little.

Wisconsin and Minnesota have many fun winter activities. Remember, to bundle up and play smart for your heart.

10. Best hygiene habit: keep your mouth clean

Simply brushing and flossing your teeth and rinsing your mouth with mouthwash can decrease your heart attack risk by 200 to 300 percent, according to University of Buffalo researchers.

However, further study by the American Heart Association finds no direct correlation between poor oral health and heart disease. Others say that there seems to be an “independent association” between poor oral health and heart disease. There is no conclusive evidence at this point, so there is no consensus.

The recommendation is to keep brushing your teeth at least twice a day and floss every day for optimum health.

You can control some of your risk factors.

While you may not be able to control your genetic susceptibility for high blood pressure, high cholesterol or coronary disease, there are a few healthy lifestyle habits that you can adopt to keep your heart as health as possible.

First and maybe most importantly, if you smoke, stop. While it may be one of the most difficult habits to break, quitting will benefit not only your heart, but your entire body. You can quit on your own, join a support group, or get medical assistance. Remember, many people quit several times before they make the non-smoking habit stick. If you don’t succeed the first time, keep trying.

Exercise at least 30 minutes a day, at least 5 days a week. Walk, run, ski or jog, just find something that you enjoy and get moving.

Reduce stress. Some people find that meditation or yoga helps them reduce stress; others find that a brisk walk breaks the stress cycle. Reducing the amount of stress you experience, reduces the amount of cortisol in your body that can harm your heart.

Sleep. Getting between 7 and 9 hours of sleep each night will let your body recharge and repair itself. This is especially important for heart health. You will wake rested and ready to handle the stress of the day.

Eat heart–healthy foods. That doesn’t mean that you have to give up all the foods that you love, but understand what you are eating. There are also ways to adapt your favorite recipes to make them tasty AND heart healthy.

Changing just these four or five areas of your life will help you feel better, lose weight and live life to its fullest.


A baker’s dozen recipe makeover tips so you make your favorite foods heart-healthy.


  • Skim your milk. Substitute skim or almond milk for whole milk or cream. Eight ounces of unsweetened almond milk has just 30 calories and may have twice the amount of calcium as cow's milk.
  • Whiten up. Substitute two egg whites for each whole egg called for in your recipe. You can also use 1/2 cup of egg substitute in cooking.
  • Make it creamy. Swap yogurt or creamed rice for sour cream to add a creamy consistency to soups and casseroles. If you use yogurt in your dips, you also have the added benefit of adding probiotics to your diet.
  • Cook on the lighter side. Substitute ground chicken or turkey for ground beef in meatloaf, spaghetti sauces, chili and casseroles. It saves calories and fat.
  • Spice it up. Use fresh or dried herbs to add savory flavor instead of salt. There are a variety of ready-made spice blends like Mrs. Dash®, which can add zest to mashed potatoes, chicken breasts and other foods.
  • Go vegan once in a while. Substitute beans or other dried legumes instead of meat in chili or soups. There are even delicious recipes for black bean burgers, which are very tasty, easy to make and make a healthy change in your diet.
  • Go whole grain. Substitute whole-wheat pasta and brown rice for their white counterparts. Along with increased vitamins and minerals, you will get more fiber, which will help you feel full longer.
  • Stretch your soups. Add extra frozen or low-sodium canned vegetables to prepared soups. You will increase the number of servings, add nutrients, add fiber, and lower sodium content at the same time. Remember to rinse canned vegetables to lower sodium content by up to 35 percent.
  • Try not to fry. Changing your cooking method can make an impact on the calories that you consume. Try baking, boiling or broiling instead of frying. It will save some fat calories.
  • Cut the fat. Substitute applesauce, mashed bananas, or non-fat yogurt in place of 1/2 of the oil, butter or shortening used in baking recipes. You can use just about anything that will replace the moisture of the fat without much of an impact on the recipe.
  • Brown up your baking. Substitute whole-wheat flour in place of up to 2/3 or 1/2 of the white flour. In some recipes, you can make a complete substitution.
  • Sack the sugar. Reduce sugar by 1/2 or 1/3 in recipes. Add cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, vanilla or almond flavoring, or other “sweet” spices to enhance the taste.
  • Zap the salt Salt is necessary in some recipes to create the desired chemical reaction. However, most of the time you can reduce salt by 1/2 in baking recipes that do not call for yeast.

Give a few of these tips a try to create healthier food for you and your family.


Valve replacement option for high-risk patients

Here’s big news for anyone living with heart valve disease: it can be treated without surgery through a procedure known as Transcatheter Aortic Valve Replacement, or TAVR.

For nearly a year, the Marshfield Clinic / Ministry Health Care Heart Care team has offered TAVR to patients with aortic stenosis. The benefits of this minimally invasive procedure are tremendous; there’s less time under anesthesia, less pain and faster recovery.

Who should consider TAVR?

TAVR is now an option for many more people. Previously TAVR was only available for people who were unable to have open-heart surgery due to age, frailty, heart disease or who had a life expectancy of 1 to 2 years. Now the Federal Drug Administration has approved TAVR for certain at-risk patients who also qualify for the open-heart surgery.

The Society of Thoracic Surgeons has developed a risk calculator for the TAVR,” said Miland Shah, MD, Marshfield Clinic interventional cardiologist on staff at Ministry Saint Joseph’s Hospital. “Using a patient’s medical information, we can determine if TAVR is an option. Many high-risk patients now have a choice between two procedures.”

If you need heart care and you want answers, contact oneheartcareteam.org.

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