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Get the Low Down on Your Heart and Stress and Celebrate National Heart Health Month!

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Get the Low Down on Your Heart and Stress and Celebrate National Heart Health Month!Valentine’s Day commercials, sales, and promos will often portray the heart as a symbol of love and happiness. But February is also National Heart Month—a time to put the health of your heart into greater focus.

Heart health challenges affect a vast amount of the population and are the leading health concern in the United States according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Additionally, it costs the United States over $300 million a year in health care services, medications, and loss of productivity. Focusing on the heart shouldn’t just happen one month a year, however. Your heart is your companion for life. Ensuring a healthy heart starts at a young age and continues through adulthood into your elderly years.

The Vast Connections of Heart Health

Heart health would be much simpler if there was one single way of supporting it. However, as the engine of your body, the heart is connected to many different important functions in your body. Because of this it can be influenced—in both positive and negative ways—from your body’s other systems. Blood pressure, diet, exercise, blood sugar, weight management, cholesterol, and stress cultivating a health heart is a balance of motivation, prevention and diligence—making sure you are trying to make the right choices for a healthy future.

Why Dealing with Stress Is, Well... Everything

With so many areas to focus on when it comes to your heart we want to focus on one of the most important factors influencing your long term heart health, stress. Like death and taxes, stress is a constant throughout your lifetime. Sometimes, everything doesn’t always go as planned; whether your car breaks down, you lose your job, or you can’t find your favorite pair of socks, there are all types of stressful situations, and everyone handles them differently.

Handling stress in the wrong way can lead to behaviors that negatively affect your heart. How do you handle stress? Under stress, do you answer yes to any of the following?

  • Eat to calm down?
  • Speak and eat very fast?
  • Drink alcohol or smoke?
  • Rush around but do not get much done?
  • Work too much?
  • Procrastinate?
  • Sleep too little, too much, or both?
  • Slow down?
  • Try to do too many things at once?

If you answer yes to a few of these, it could mean that you are not dealing with stress in the right way. Being under stress or dealing with stressful situations can set off a chain reaction within your body. Adrenaline is released as part of your “fight or flight” response, elevating your heart-rate, breathing, and blood pressure.

Stress can also lead to overeating and unhealthy eating, as well as induce bad decisions in attempts at stress management. Managing stress, therefore, is important.

Manage Your Stress and Choose a Healthy Heart

The effects of stress and how it relates to are currently undergoing many studies. But there are already proven ways in which you can manage stress to prevent long-term damage and potential heart disease. Exercise and diet—two staples that every expert agrees are at the core of good heart health—should be at the heart (pun very much intended) of creating good daily habits. Consistent exercise—at least 150 minutes of cardio per week—can be done in a variety of ways that is adaptive to all ages and athletic levels.

Eating habits can change as a result of constant stress, causing undereating, overeating, and poor choices in food. It’s the same with exercise—stress can zap your energy, hurt your sleeping patterns, and slow you down in general. It’s somewhat of conundrum; exercise helps keep stress away, but stress can keep you from having the energy to exercise.

Response Choices for a Healthy Heart

Even with all the modern medicine available in the world, we still can’t find the secret to alleviating stress. The truth lies in your behavioral reactions and response choices from stressful situations. Understanding how you deal with stress, and the decisions you make will affect the behaviors that can dictate a healthy or unhealthy heart. Take the time this month to learn what you can do to give your heart healthy outlook it deserves.

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Is an Avocado a Day a Secret to Better Health?

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Is an Avocado a Day a Secret to Better Health?Almost everyone knows the famous food-related piece of advice: "An apple a day keeps the doctor away." But it may be time to rephrase that saying. Recent studies have shown that replacing bad fats (saturated fatty acids) with good fats (unsaturated fatty acids) can benefit cholesterol and help support both heart health and weight management. These studies point to the benefits of the Mediterranean diet as one pathway to better eating habits. One particular study focuses on the benefits of avocados as a novel way of introducing healthier fats into your diet.

Out with the Bad Fats and in with the Good!

Published in the Journal of the American Heart Association, the study sought to test the effect avocados had on traditional cardiovascular risk-factors by substituting the saturated fatty acids in the average American diet with unsaturated fatty acids found in avocados. Risk factors included: total cholesterol, triglycerides, small dense LDL, and non-HDL cholesterol.

Forty-five healthy, overweight, or obese patients ranging in age from 21 to 70 were selected. Placed on three different cholesterol-lowering diets, participants consumed an average American diet—consisting of 34% calories from fat, 51% carbohydrates, and 16% protein—for two weeks prior to starting one of the following cholesterol-lowering diets: a lower-fat diet without the consumption of avocado, a moderate-fat diet without avocado, and a moderate-fat diet that included eating one avocado per day.

An Avocado a Day...

When compared to the average American diet, LDL, commonly known as "bad choelsterol, was lower after consuming the moderate-fat diet that included an avocado. LDL was also lower for the moderate-fat diet without the avocado, but not as much; it was 8.3 mg/dL lower when compared to the avocado-a-day diet, which was 13.5 mg/dL lower.

"In the United States, avocados are not a mainstream food yet, and they can be expensive, especially at certain times of the year," said Penny M. Kris-Etherton, Ph.D, R.D., senior study author, Chair of the American Heart Association's Nutrition Committee, and Distinguished Professor of Nutrition at Pennsylvania State University. "Also, most people do not really know how to incorporate them in their diet except for making guacamole. But guacamole is typically eaten with corn chips, which are high in calories and sodium. Avacados, however, can also be eaten with salads, vegetables, sandwiches, lean protein foods (like chicken or fish) or even whole," she said.

Taking the First Steps to Better Heart Health

The focus behind many heart-healthy diets has been to change the types of fats consumed rather than eliminate them. The Mediterranean diet seeks to do this by going heavy on the vegetables, whole grains, fatty fish, and foods rich in unsaturated fatty acids. Research on avocados now puts them in the same group and presents an easy way to start replacing bad fats with good ones. Although it can be tough always sticking to a particular way of eating, integrating an avocado into your daily eating habits can be a great starting point to support good heart-health and weight management. Start your avocado-a-day routine today!

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Your Body Is the Battleground and a Cold Nose May Be a New Enemy

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Your Body Is the Battleground and a Cold Nose May Be a New EnemyTalking in a nasal-like tone and feeling congested for weeks at time is no fun. Then again, neither is sneezing, coughing, or constantly burying your face in a tissue. The common cold is an inescapable part of being human, it seems, and while many advances have been made in modern medicine over the last two centuries, the elusive instant cure-all for it remains as mysterious as a supermassive black hole. While many remedies, exist, there is no one path to feeling better. However, a new study reveals an interesting fact about temperature and nose colds.

Cold Temps Can Influence... the Nose Cold?

One of the most common forms of the cold—the rhinovirus—has been the subject of previous studies conducted in various temperatures. However, earlier research only focused on how the virus reacted to colder body temperatures. This new study headed by author and Yale professor of immunobiology, Akiko Iwasaki, sought to further investigate the relationship between higher temperatures and the immune-response rate.

To investigate this relationship, Iwasaki extracted cells from subjects' airways. She then compared the immune-response of the cells exposed to the rhinovirus when the cells were incubated at 37oC (98.6oF) or the body's normal temperature. The same comparison was made with a lower body temperature of 33oC (91.4oF). Findings suggested that the innate immune-response to the rhinovirus was impaired at the lower body temperature when compared to the normal body temperature.

"In general, the lower the temperature, it seems the lower the innate immune response to viruses," noted Iwasaki. This gives weight to remedies like hot drinks and hot soup when you have a cold. Keeping your body temp warm is actually scientifically helpful to your immune system when fighting off a cold.

The Importance of the Immune Response

While you may not be able to avoid the common cold and other mildly annoying illnesses, you can do your part to strengthen your body's immune response. Raising your body temperature by staying warm, as shown in the study above, and even covering your extremities (especially the nose) can help your body respond better in fighting off the cold as explained by the body temperature studies above. Supplementing with certain vitamins and minerals like zinc, vitamin C, and Echinacea can also support the body's immune system. While everyone will experience the common cold at some point, it doesn't need to be a losing battle.

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What Makes You Gain More Weight in Winter?

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What Makes You Gain More Weight in Winter?Although cookies, hot chocolate, oatmeal, breaded dishes, and pasta are not exclusively associated with the winter season, there is something about the sharp, blanketing cold of winter that makes us crave these filling foods more often when it is chilly out. Can this be the reason people see winter as a season for weight gain? Why do we crave these foods; is it pop-culture advertising making these calorie-rich foods more appealing during the wintry season and holidays? Or does it go a little deeper, reaching into our primitive past?

Are You Eating Because You're SAD?

Being stuck indoors on cold nights can quickly lead to boredom. Even with all the distractions of the digital age, eating is still one of our favorite ways to pass the time. It's known that your mood can affect your appetite—and not always in a good way. Long, cold nights of winter bring out low moods—a condition known as seasonal affective disorder (SAD)—so it's easy to understand why this can lead to overeating and weight gain. In an article by The Huffington Post, Susan B. Roberts, PhD, professor of nutrition at Tufts University, explains how our prehistoric ancestors—who had to constantly forage for food for survival—were wired to search for sugars, fats, and proteins.

"In prehistory, calories were in intermittent supply and very essential for survival," Roberts explains. "So it makes sense to have a mechanism to ensure that we really love calories and are willing to work to get them!"

Which Season Do You Eat More In?

With shorter days and colder weather it's natural to assume that less physical activity happens in fall and winter. A recent study published in the journal, Nature, done by Ira Ockene, MD, a cardiologist at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, confirmed that calorie intake does vary season by season. In the study, winter eating was associated with our conditioned, primitive impulse to stockpile food for winter. Researchers also found that the average calorie intake increased by 86 in the fall compared to the spring. In an interview, Dr. Ockene states that less sunlight and shorter days also prompt us to seek more food and eat faster.

However, scientific backing may not be needed to point out the obvious. Holidays eating traditions also play a major role in our winter dietary habits. From October through January we are hit with Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year's, and even Super Bowl parties, which have become occasions for friends and family to come together and indulge in calorie-rich foods and snacks. These calorie-laced holidays—coupled with lack of physical exercise—makes winter a prime time for a little weight gain. So what can you do?

Fortunately, it is possible to enjoy the holidays and indulge in a few guilty food pleasures if you're smart about your eating habits. Make yourself a deal: Enjoy some of the foods you normally wouldn't, but only eat one of them a day. If you know you'll be attending several parties, eat light and go for low-calorie foods such as salads, or fruit and vegetable platters. By staying conscious of your holiday calorie intake, you can help you stave off some both weight gain and some of the regret come the spring.

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Recent Studies Reveal Powerful Heart Health Benefits

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Recent Studies Reveal Powerful Heart Health BenefitsCertain diets, like the Mediterranean diet, have shown many benefits for heart health, cholesterol levels, and even weight management. Part of the Mediterranean diet focuses on replacing saturated fats with different types of vegetable oils or oils that contain unsaturated fats. One particular type of vegetable oil, linoleic acid, has been identified as being able to provide many different types of health benefits when utilized in your daily diet.

Data for a Different Kind of Oil

Linoleic acid is the main type of polyunsaturated omega-3 fatty acid found in many vegetables oils, nuts, and seeds. Recently, it was studied as part of a comprehensive review by Harvard Public Health School researchers. Compiling data from 13 published and unpublished cohort studies involving a total of 310,602 individuals, Harvard researchers noticed a connection between the use of linoleic acid and reductions in heart-related concerns.

Lead author, Maryam Farvid, a visiting scientist and Takemi fellow in the Department of Nutrition, explained at length why linoleic acid can be an important component of a daily diet.

"Replacing either saturated fat or carbohydrates with vegetable oils and seeing significant benefits indicates that reduction in saturated fat or carbohydrates is not the only reason for the beneficial effects of linoleic acid. Instead, linoleic acid itself plays a special role in support of heart health. Randomized clinical trials have shown that replacing saturated fat with linoleic acid reduces total and LDL cholesterol. There is also some evidence that linoleic acid improves insulin sensitivity and blood pressure."

Other studies done by the University of Maryland Medical Center (UMMC) found that women, specifically, can derive benefits from linoleic acid. Research found that women who consumed 1.5 grams of alpha-linoleic acid per day lowered their cardiac health risks by 46% compared to those who consumed less than 0.5 grams per day. Alpha-linoleic acid was also shown help to increase healthy HDL cholesterol levels, and decrease unhealthy LDL cholesterol and triglyceride levels.

Integrating Linoleic Acid Into Your Daily Diet

Various cooking oils—such as soybean, canola, sunflower, safflower, and corn oils—all contain linoleic acid and can replace creams, butters, lards, and other animal-based fats as your primary source of healthy fats that are crucial to supporting daily heart health. Soybean and canola oils contain the highest yield of linoleic acid. For a healthy snack, walnuts are also rich in this fatty acid. Linoleic acid can also be taken in supplement form in vegetable-based omega formulas containing flaxseed oil.

Prioritizing Heart Health

Heart health continues to be one of the top priorities in today’s society. While the focus on how to utilize fats for good health is still being researched, studies have shown that nature can provide a variety of nutritious fat substitutes from vegetable oils, nuts, and seeds. With the growing popularity of the Mediterranean diet, the prevalence of healthy oils like linoleic acid will play a crucial role in carrying good heart health into the future.

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