Step, Lift, Pedal and Eat for the Health of Your Heart

Tori Schmitt, MS, RDN, LD03/16/18

Want to support the health of your heart?  Of course you do!  In fact, it’s likely you or someone you know is affected by heart disease or stroke. In the United States, a person receives the diagnosis of heart disease about every 43 seconds.  And, cardiovascular disease – including heart disease and stroke – is the leading cause of death globally.1

Yet, expert bodies and organizations know that simple factors, like getting adequate physical activity and choosing a healthy eating pattern, support heart health.  Here’s why exercise and omega-3s matter – and what you can do to support the health of your heart more often.

How does exercise support heart health?

Each time you take your dog for a walk, ride your bike to the post office or run with a friend, you’re supporting the health of your heart!  A large body of evidence associates increases in physical activity with decreases in blood pressure, which is a good thing since high blood pressure can raise the risk for the development of cardiovascular concerns.2 Exercising can also reduce the “bad” cholesterol (called LDL cholesterol) and help raise the “good” cholesterol in the body (called HDL cholesterol).2  Time to lace up those sneakers!

How do omega-3s support heart health?

Fatty fish – including salmon, sardines, herring, and mackerel – and fish oil are good sources of healthy omega-3 fats, like EPA and DHA.  In fact, the American Heart Association recommends that most adults follow a heart-healthy eating pattern, which includes omega-3 rich fish.3  As it turns out, when combined with other healthy eating habits, eating omega-3 rich fish can help reduce triglycerides by as much as 20-50%!4

The combination of exercise and omega-3s for heart health

When it comes to heart health, some things are just better together – like omega-3s and exercise! Independently, both can support overall health. And together, they may provide further benefits.  A 2007 study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition demonstrated significant decreases in body fat among those who performed aerobic exercise and took a fish oil supplement over a 12-week period.5

How To Get Omega-3s & Exercise Daily

Getting an adequate amount of omega-3s and exercise can be an easy way to support a healthy heart.  Consider adding activities you love more often.  Whether you enjoy running, lifting, biking, swimming or dancing, try to move your body for at least 30 minutes every day! Outside of planned physical activity, add in simple ways to move more– stand at your desk instead of sit, do body weight exercises while watching television, and take the stairs instead of the elevator. All the little movements add up!

Then, when it comes to getting more omega-3s, add fatty fish like salmon, sardines, tuna and herring to your eating pattern more often.  The 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that healthy people choose at least 8 ounces of seafood each week.6  Make it a habit to get more oily fish by letting the day of the week remind you to eat your omega-3s.  Consider “Seafood Saturdays,” “Salmon Sundays,” or “Tuna Tuesdays.”

While you can also get healthy omega-3s (specifically ALA) from walnuts, flaxseed and other plant-based foods, studies suggest that the conversion rate from ALA to the important omega-3s EPA and DHA is limited to no more than 10%!  So, if you do not eat fish, consider choosing a quality fish oil supplement that provides EPA and DHA, or look for DHA and EPA fortified foods and beverages.

What’s your favorite way to move more and enjoy more omega-3s?  Share your thoughts with me over on Facebook @YESNutritionLLC and tag my friends MEG-3.

References

  1. February is American Heart Month. American Heart Association. 2018 Feb 1. Accessed February 12, 2018 from http://newsroom.heart.org/events/february-is-american-heart-month-6669831
  2. Myers J. Exercise and Cardiovascular Health. Circulation. 2003;107:e2-e5. 2003 Jan 7. Accessed February 18, 2018 from http://circ.ahajournals.org/content/107/1/e2.
  3. Eckel RH, Jakicic JM, Ard JD, de Jesus JM, Houston Miller N, Hubbard VS, Lee I-M, Lichtenstein AH, Loria CM, Millen BE, Nonas CA, Sacks FM, Smith SC Jr, Svetkey LP, Wadden TA, Yanovski SZ. 2013 AHA/ACC guideline on lifestyle management to reduce cardiovascular risk: a report of the American College of Cardiology/American Heart Association Task Force on Practice Guidelines. J Am Coll Cardiol 2014;63:2960–84.
  4. Miller M, Stone JH, Ballantune C, et al. Triglycerides and Cardiovascular Disease: A Scientific Statement from the American Heart Association. Circulation. 2011 May 23. Accessed February 19, 2018 from http://circ.ahajournals.org/content/123/20/2292?ijkey=96b6fa8eb781cdfa6f18720b2b26778127e62d99&keytype2=tf_ipsecsha.
  5. Alison M Hill, Jonathan D Buckley, Karen J Murphy, Peter RC Howe; Combining fish-oil supplements with regular aerobic exercise improves body composition and cardiovascular disease risk factors, The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Volume 85, Issue 5, 1 May 2007, Pages 1267–1274, https://doi.org/10.1093/ajcn/85.5.1267
  6. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and U.S. Department of Agriculture. 2015 – 2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. 8th Edition. December 2015. Available at http://health.gov/dietaryguidelines/2015/guidelines/.
  7. Williams CM, Burdge G. Long-chain n-3 PUFA: plant v. marine sources. Proc Nutr Soc. 2006;65:42-50.

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