A diagnosis of coronary artery disease is a life changer. If you’ve had an angioplasty, a stent procedure or other intervention, or are preparing for one, you want to make sure it’s your last. And that means turning your attention to behaviors that can keep you heart-healthy for life.
Exercise helps keep blood pressure and cholesterol levels in check. It promotes weight management, which contributes to heart health as well as the prevention of other diseases. And it can boost your mood. Just 30 minutes a day of moderate exercise five days a week is a good goal to strive for. Use half your lunch hour for a brisk walk, and you’ll hit that goal.
If you smoke, it’s time to kick the habit. That’s because smoking increases your risk for developing atherosclerosis—which refers to the buildup of fatty substances in the arteries. Even if you’ve been a longtime smoker, you can begin to heal the damage to your heart (and your lungs) by stopping now.
Research shows that meditation may lower blood pressure and contribute to an overall reduction in heart attack risk. Meditation, which typically uses deep breathing and quiet contemplation, is designed to ease stress and relax your mind. If meditation doesn’t appeal to you, there are other ways to deal with stress. Consider yoga or tai chi—or just a simple deep breathing exercise. Lie down, or sit comfortably with your feet on the floor. As you envision a peaceful scene, inhale deeply and slowly, then exhale. Try to do this for five to 10 minutes each day.
A lot of information is out there about healthy diets. It’s confusing to pick a direction. But here’s something experts agree on: Eat as little sugar and as few processed foods as possible, and eat more whole foods, including fruits and vegetables, lean meats, fish and whole grains.
Your doctor is a powerful ally in your efforts to be heart-healthy. If you’ve had an angioplasty, your doctor will talk to you about follow-up appointments. Be sure to keep those appointments. Regular blood pressure testing and other heart screenings will also keep you on track for your heart-health goals.
Worldwide, daily viewing of television averages more than three hours. That’s a considerable amount of nonsleeping and nonworking hours. And the TV habit could be responsible for serious adverse health effects. Researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health noted in a 2011 study that more than two hours per day of TV time drove up the risk of heart disease, as well as type 2 diabetes. And for each additional two hours of TV viewing a day, heart disease risk increases by 15 percent, they said. When you power down the screen, you may find you have time for healthier activities, including exercise.
A stent is inserted into a narrowed or blocked artery to remove the blockage and restore blood flow. Traditional metal stents remain in the artery permanently, but the next generation of stent—the fully dissolving stent—is designed to dissolve over time as the artery heals, avoiding future complications related to permanent devices. By the time the stent has completely dissolved, the treated segment of the artery can remain open without the extra support of the stent. The artery can flex and respond naturally, allowing you to look forward to a future with renewed possibilities.
With proper care, the heart and its arteries are resilient. So, talk to your doctor about how to improve your heart health and make smart choices every day, and you’ll be making great strides to avoid another angioplasty in the future.
Green vegetables such as spinach, arugula, collard greens, broccoli and mustard greens have a protective effect on the heart. These vegetables also improve the health of the endothelium, the inner surface of arteries. In patients with stable coronary artery disease, endothelial dysfunction is a major risk factor for heart attacks and other serious heart problems.
The omega-3 fatty acids in fish seem to reduce the narrowing of arteries in people living with coronary artery disease. The fish richest in omega-3s are salmon, mackerel, anchovies, sardines and herring. Regularly eating fish, including tuna and dark fish, slowed the progression of coronary artery disease in one study of postmenopausal women.1
Studies indicate that polyphenols, a type of antioxidant found in cocoa, may improve the health of arteries.2 Two of the richest sources of cocoa polyphenols are unsweetened cocoa powder and dark chocolate (best eaten in moderation—no more than an ounce a day of 85 percent dark chocolate).
Low in calories and bursting with the antioxidant lycopene, watermelon is a rare whole food source of citrulline. This amino acid increases production of L-arginine (even more than taking arginine itself), which in turn boosts levels of nitric oxide, an important component of healthy endothelium. Make sure to eat the watermelon down to the white part, as the rind contains the most citrulline.
Red wine contains an antioxidant known as resveratrol, found in the skins of grapes. Resveratrol is thought to be the active ingredient in wine that, when consumed lightly to moderately, may hinder the buildup of plaque in arteries. Resveratrol is also found in peanuts, berries and grapes, but it’s possible there may other components in wine that make it so heart-friendly. Note: White wine does not contain resveratrol.
In one study of more than 800 men ages 65-84, drinking black tea was associated with decreased heart attack risk. Antioxidants in tea, called flavonoids, may reverse damage to the endothelium.
Blueberries have been called a superfood. They are loaded with nutrients and light on the calories. It’s not just blueberries, though. Acai berries, black currants, bilberries, boysenberries, cranberries, chokeberries and lingonberries are rich sources of antioxidants and fiber and help reduce risks related to coronary artery disease, especially those that come from eating less-than-healthy food.
The olive oil-heavy Mediterranean diet has been proven to reduce cardiovascular risk factors. Even if you don’t strictly follow the Mediterranean diet, replacing some of your fats with olive oil improves markers of coronary artery disease.
Red meat has long been vilified for contributing to heart disease, but natural grass-fed beef might be more heart-friendly. Long-term research is needed, but compared with beef from conventionally raised cattle, grass-fed beef has a higher level of omega-3 fatty acids, which can reduce inflammation within arteries.
Research suggests that eating nuts reduces the risk of coronary artery disease. Walnuts in particular offer a wealth of nutritional benefits for arterial health. Walnuts contain antioxidants and fatty acids that contribute to lower cholesterol levels and improved endothelial health.
Fats | Processed meats | Simple carbohydrates (e.g., white bread and pasta, sugary drinks, sweeteners)
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1. Erkkilä AT et al. Am J Clin Nutr. 2004;80:626-632.
2.Corti R et al. Circulation. 2009;119:1433-1441.