Dr. Kim Foster: Wicked Health


How to Pass Your Stress Test With an A+

Cheat Sheet for a Healthy Heart

Learn how to take care of your heart

Erica Ehm experienced a health scare recently. She had a stress test done and was shocked to discover that her heart wasn’t exactly in tip-top shape. It came as a major wake-up call: time to start taking better care of herself.

And let’s face it, ladies, if that sort of thing can happen to Erica, it can happen to any of us.

As moms, we’re all busy, no question. But the thing is, you’ve got to put on your oxygen mask first. You are no good to anyone else, and certainly not to your kids, if you’re unhealthy. Or dead.

Taking care of your heart really needs to move up on your priority list. I know it feels like you don’t have time to deal with this right now. But...that’s a flawed argument, darlings. Truth is: If you don’t make a little time now, you are stealing time from your own life down the road.

So. Enough scary talk. Let’s get down to what you can do. To start, you might be wondering: what’s a stress test, exactly? Well it’s not a calculus final, with you showing up late. In your underwear.

Nope, a Stress Test examines what happens to your heart under physiologic stress. As in: exercise. Picture you, on a treadmill (or possibly a stationary bike), hooked up to an electrocardiogram (ECG) and a blood pressure monitor. Essentially, we want to know if there’s adequate blood flow to your heart during increasing levels of exertion. Fancier versions of the test involve nuclear or ultrasound images of the heart.

So what can you do to pass such a test with flying colours? Below I’ve compiled my top 10 heart lifestyle tips. Some are big jobs. (Yes, smokers, I’m looking at you). Others are tweaks you can easily slip into your multitasking days.

1. Take Omega-3

Research has shown that omega-3 fatty acids are good for your heart. They decrease inflammation, improve cholesterol, lower blood pressure and reduce clotting. To get more omega-3, eat fish (like salmon, cod, sardines, mackerel and tuna), walnuts, flaxseed, eggs enriched with omega-3, or take supplements.

2. Exercise.

There's no getting around this. You gotta get moving, and you gotta get that heart pumping. Ideally, of course, we’re all running daily or hitting the gym several times a week. But who's got the time for that? If you do, awesome. If not, I've got good news. Research shows that every little bit helps. You should aim for at least 2 1/2 hours per week of moderate activity. But that total time can be accumulated, say in 10 minute bits and pieces spread throughout the day. Well, heck—anybody can exercise for 10 minutes, right?

3. Floss.

Strange but true. Several recent studies have shown an association between gum disease and heart disease. One theory: inflammation in the gums sets off a biochemical cascade that promotes inflammation throughout the body. And chronic, unchecked inflammation is one of those things we're starting to recognize as a major factor in heart disease.

4. Eat your heart out.

Move towards a heart-healthy diet by including lots of veggies & fruit, whole grains, and lean protein (especially fish—see omega-3, above!). Cut back on all that yucky processed food and fried stuff loaded with trans fats. Personally, the Mediterranean diet is my fave heart-loving diet.  

5. Get your yoga on.

Yoga lowers blood pressure and slows the heart rate. It's helpful for stress. Some studies have shown it can reduce cholesterol. And there may be other physiologic benefits arising from anti-oxidant activity and anti-inflammatory properties.

6. Drink wine.

Research has repeatedly demonstrated the antioxidant and heart-healthy benefits of wine—red wine in particular. Don’t overdo it, though, or you may do more harm than good. One glass a day is a reasonable guideline. And goes oh-so-nicely with your Mediterranean dinner.

7. Take vitamin D.

Adults with low levels of vitamin D have increased risks of heart disease. And many of us are D-deficient, without being aware of it. You can find vitamin D in fortified dairy, and sunshine. But to ensure adequate intake, I recommend supplements.

8. Eat chocolate.

The antioxidants and polyphenols in chocolate, especially dark chocolate, appear to have significant heart-boosting benefit. Just a little daily dose of chocolate has been shown to reduce your risks of heart disease. All I can say here is: yay, research!

9. If you smoke, quit. 

It’s time. Seriously.

10. Drink green tea.

Studies are increasingly showing the health benefits of green tea, and the strongest association so far is with heart health. Three cups a day appears to reduce your risk of heart disease and protect against developing hypertension. 

So...who's afraid of a little treadmill test now? (Even if you are in your underwear.)