Promoting a vascular health-friendly lifestyle

May 24, 2022
Dr. Teo

Apart from exacerbating existing medical conditions, COVID-19 has been shown in several studies to increase the risk of heart disease. In Asia, cardiovascular diseases (CVDs) accounted for 35% of deaths in 2019. Research also shows that tobacco use is one of the primary causes of CVD deaths – more than one in five CVDs result from smoking, which even impacts non-smokers who are exposed to second-hand smoke.

To maintain a healthy heart and prevent CVDs, Dr. Alex Teo, Director, Research & Development and Scientific Affairs, Asia Pacific, Herbalife Nutrition, recommends incorporating a balanced diet with regular exercise, going for periodic check-ups, and staying connected with their healthcare professionals (HCP).

Dr. Teo breaks this advice down further into lifestyle tips that we can practice for heart health.

Promoting a vascular health-friendly lifestyle

Practice a good general nutrition philosophy

When it comes to nutrition for heart health, the ideal calorie consumption should comprise 40% carbohydrates, 30% protein, and 30% healthy fats, coupled with 25 g of fibre and around eight glasses of water per day for adequate hydration, according to the Herbalife Nutrition’s Global Nutrition Philosophy.

While a dietary pattern of fresh fruits, vegetables, lean protein, and whole grains provide a good daily dose of vitamins and minerals, other natural molecules such as omega-3 fatty acids, nitric oxides, and flavanols have beneficial effects on vascular health:

Omega-3

Omega-3 is helpful in maintaining healthy vascular performance due to its ability to reduce inflammation throughout the body. Inflammation restricts blood flow through the vascular system and is often responsible for the occurrence of heart diseases and strokes.

Foods like fatty fish (salmon, mackerel, and tuna), flaxseeds, walnuts, pumpkin seeds, and soybeans are high in omega-3 fatty acids. Not only is fish a great substitute for foods like beef, which is high in saturated fat, the omega-3s also help to support a healthy cardiovascular system by helping to lower triglyceride levels.

The consumption of plant-based omega-3 fatty acids supplements is useful for vegetarians, as the above are primarily found in fish sources.

Nitric Oxide

Nitric oxide helps in dilating the blood vessels which is essential for controlling blood pressure. Nitric oxide is also used by the nervous system as a neurotransmitter to regulate the proper functioning of the body, from digestion to memory and vision.

To maximise the production of nitric oxide, consumers can consider an intake of 3 g or more of arginine, found in protein-rich foods like nuts, fish, poultry, dairy and multigrain. This can increase the amino acid levels in our bodies, which in turn is converted into nitric oxide.

Flavanols

Flavanols are naturally-occurring compounds in plants which can facilitate good cardiovascular health by decreasing blood pressure, whilst improving nitric oxide production and arterial function. 

High concentrations of flavanols are found in foods like berries, cocoa (dark chocolate), kale, and tea, to name a few – to increase consumption of cocoa flavanols, sources such as cocoa powder (2.5 g), dark chocolate (10 g), and/or cocoa extract (200 mg) can be considered.

In addition, studies have shown that consuming black or green tea can benefit people with hypertension and type 2 diabetes, as it improves blood circulation by relaxing the muscles, reducing vascular inflammation and anti-vascular oxidative stress.

Get your heart pumping

A major part of proper bodily function is dependent on physical exercise, and this is very much applicable to the heart as well. Exercise can help in lowering blood pressure and stress while increasing the presence of HDL cholesterol. It also helps in strengthening muscles which leads to superior oxygenation and weight management.

The American Heart Association recommends 150 minutes or more of moderate-intensity aerobic workouts or 75 minutes of intense aerobic exercises per week. The aerobic exercises focus on the repetitive and patterned movement of muscle groups such as legs, shoulders, and arms. The most popular aerobic activities include swimming, jogging, walking, dancing, etc.

The World Health Organization supports this recommendation, stating that aerobic exercises are an ideal form of physical exercise.

Role of healthcare professionals

According to a Herbalife Nutrition Myth Survey, consumers rely on credible and accurate information from HCPs and nutrition companies to understand the difference between nutrition myths and facts. Hence, HCPs have a significant part to play in improving knowledge around the available nutrition and lifestyle options to manage health risks.

Medical facts and health resources need to be conveyed to the public in an easy-to-understand manner. Caregivers can also identify people who are at a higher risk, by looking after parameters such as lifestyle, food habits, the existence of heart problems, diabetes, and the individual’s family health history.  

Multi-sector collaborations can also go hand in hand with ongoing efforts to raise public education. For example, Herbalife Nutrition has formed collaborations with various government bodies and nutrition organisations in the region: in Indonesia, the company’s partnership with GERMAS, a government organisation under the Ministry of Health, has aided the dissemination of information from GERMAS’ many public health campaigns to local consumers, with the help of Herbalife Nutrition’s extensive distributor networks.

Steps forward for heart health

While the pandemic has brought about new concerns regarding CVDs, these risks can be prevented and managed through a wider adoption of balanced nutrition and active lifestyles. This is an area where more meaningful collaborations between groups like HCPs, nutrition companies and the public sector, have a strong opportunity to effect real change in the minds of consumers and nations alike, Dr. Teo concluded.

NOTE: Studies related to the cardiovascular outcomes of COVID-19 may be read herehere, and here.

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