16 Heart-Healthy Indulgences

You don’t have to avoid the things you love to stay healthy. Spoil yourself with these 16 heart-friendly finds

February 6, 2013
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Being chronically stressed can be as bad for your heart as smoking five cigarettes a day, say Columbia University Medical Centre researchers. Fortunately, scientists from the Touch Research Institute at the University of Miami School of Medicine have uncovered an enjoyable way to manage stress. According to Tiffany Field, PhD, who founded the institute, they determined that "massage therapy lowers cortisol, a hormone that's produced in response to stress, by an average of 31 percent." (Plus, try these 5 Heart-Healthy Fats You Should Be Eating) No money for frequent trips to the spa? Don't worry. "Any activity that stimulates pressure receptors--such as walking, which presses the soles of the feet; doing yoga; scrubbing yourself with a brush or loofah in the shower; rubbing a tennis ball along your limbs--should have an effect similar to that of moderate pressure massage," says Field.

Discover how to go from sedintary to slim in just 12 weeks with Walk Your Butt Off!

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These succulent sweets not only taste great, they're also packed with heart-healthy antioxidants likes anathocyanin. In 2011, a study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that people who had the most anthocyanin in their diets--mostly from eating lots of blueberries and strawberries--were 8 percent less likely to develop high blood pressure compared with those who ate the least.

Add berries to your breakfast with this Blueberry Protein Pancakes recipe.

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Dark Chocolate

You probably don't need an excuse to eat chocolate, but here's one anyway: People who eat the most chocolate have a 37 percent lower risk of heart disease and a 29 percent lower risk of stroke than those who eat the least, according to a 2011 review published on the website of the British Medical Journal. For the biggest benefit, choose a dark chocolate that's at least 70 percent cocoa--it contains flavonol, which helps lower blood pressure, improve blood flow, and reduce the free radical damage that can increase cholesterol.

Can Chocolate Help You Lose Weight?

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Having a stressful day? Turn on The Daily Show. In a study presented at the European Society of Cardiology's 2011 conference in Paris, researchers found that when study participants watched parts of a stressful movie--in this case the opening sequence of Saving Private Ryan--their inner blood vessel lining constricted, reducing blood flow. After watching some of a funny movie such as There's Something About Mary, their blood vessel lining expanded by 30 to 50 percent. The change in the endothelium caused by laughter appears to be consistent and similar to the benefits from aerobic exercise or the use of cholesterol-lowering drugs such as statins, lead researcher Michael Miller, MD, professor of medicine in the division of cardiology and professor of epidemiology and preventive medicine at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, told Bloomberg news. The difference? Laughter works almost immediately.

These 15 Awkward Fitness Photos are guaranteed to make you LOL.

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It's hard to find time to do it, but when you do, napping feels so good. There are lots of reasons why: Research shows brief bouts of daytime sleep improves fatigue, vigor, and cognitive performance. But that's not all. Greek researchers also found that people who who took a siesta for 30 minutes or more at least three times a week were 37 percent less likely to die of heart disease compared to those who napped less frequently. (Search: How to fall asleep fast)  "Napping may help deal with the stress of daily living," Michael Twery, PhD, director of the National Center on Sleep Disorders Research in the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute's Division of Lung Diseases at the National Institutes of Health, told The Washington Post.

5 Reasons You Need More Sleep

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Knockin' boots is linked to less depression, smaller waists, and better sleep, but it also directly affects the heart. University of Bristol researchers found that having sex at least two times a week lowers stroke risk and can cut heart disease risk by one-third. Intercourse, in particular, has also been found to help lower blood pressure and stress levels, according to a 2006 study in Biological Psychology

Turn good sex into great sex with these four exercises.

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Whether you're sprinkling it in your latte or on some toast, cinnamon is hard to beat when it comes to comfort foods. But a sunny disposition isn't the only thing it helps inspire. When 30 diabetics took between 1 and 6 grams of antioxidant-rich ground cinnamon daily (about ½ to 3 teaspoons), their mean fasting glucose fell by up to 29 percent, their triglycerides drop by up to 30 percent, and their total cholesterol plummeted by up to 26 percent, according to a study in Diabetes Care

Get your daily cinnamon fix with this flavor-packed Cinnamon Apple Spice Smoothie.

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Red Wine

Raise your Bordeaux and toast your health: People who exercise regularly and drink moderately have lower risk of heart disease than those who only do one or the other, according to a study published in the European Heart Journal. There are a couple of different reasons why red wine in particular may help. Two separate studies found that resveratrol, which is found in the skin of red grapes, may protect the heart from inflammation, help blood vessels to relax and widen, and decrease obesity by preventing fat cells from maturing. Keep a bottle of red wine in the house, but remember that moderation means no more than one drink a day for women and two for men.

Video: How to Pick a Healthy Wine

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Don't dismiss all starches. When participants in a 2011 University of Scranton study added purple potatoes to their daily diets for a month, they lowered their blood pressure by up to four percent without packing on pounds or elevating their cholesterol. A separate study published the same year in the Journal of Nutrition found that people eating red, purple, and other pigmented potatoes had lower levels of oxidative stress and inflammation--two conditions linked to heart disease. Like other colorful foods, researchers believe these special spuds may be rich in antioxidants.

The Best and Worst French Fries in America

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Turn off the TV and turn on some music. Over the course of three months, people who regularly listened to their favorite pop, classical, or jazz music lowered their systolic blood pressure by an average of five to six points, according to a Japanese study. Just be sure to keep your playlist mellow. A study in Circulation found that loud music makes hearts beat faster and blood pressure go up, while soft music has the opposite effect.

Need some mellow song recommendations? These yoga tunes should do the trick.

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Two recent studies have given us hope that we don't have to give up cheese to stay healthy. One, done by Danish researchers, found that eating cheese has a neutral effect on "bad" LDL and total cholesterol. A second study published in Medical Hypothesis, found that blue cheeses, such as Roquefort, have anti-inflammatory properties that may slow signs of aging and aid cardiovascular health.

Here are 14 More Healthy Cheeses that are not only pleasing to the palate, but also loaded with protein, vitamins, and minerals.

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Green Tea

Wrap your hands around a warm cup of green tea: Regular drinkers of this antioxidant powerhouse have up to a 65 percent reduction in hypertension risk compared to non-drinkers, according to a study in Archives of Internal Medicine. Green tea is full of catechins--compounds that have been shown to decrease cholesterol absorption and fight the free radicals that can lead to blood clots and atherosclerosis.

The Best Drinks For Your Health

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A number of nutrients, such as fiber, folate, magnesium and vitamin C, are linked to healthier hearts and avocados contain them all. That's why it's no surprise that Mexican researches found that people who ate avocado every day for a week experienced an average 17 percent drop in total cholesterol.

Need new ways to incorporate avocado in your diet? Try swapping it with this.

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Java may keep your heart humming, as long as you're not drinking too much. People who regularly consume about two 8-ounce cups of coffee have an 11 percent lower risk of heart failure than those who abstain, according to researchers at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston. Furthermore, Dutch researchers found that people who drank more than two, but no more than four, cups of coffee a day for 13 years had about a 20 percent lower risk of heart disease than people who drank more or less coffee or no coffee at all. Coffee contains antioxidant compounds that can ward off type-2 diabetes, a known risk factor for heart disease and stroke.

6 Ridiculously Unhealthy Hot Drinks

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Olive Oil

Dress your food with a Mediterranean flavor. When Spanish researchers studied data on the eating habits of 40,622 men and women between 29 and 69 over a 13 year period, they found that people who consumed 29 grams of olive oil or more a day--just over two tablespoons--were 44 percent less likely to die from heart disease. The inflammation-fighting monounsaturated fatty acids in olive oil may yield the protective benefits.

Mix up the flavor (and health benefits) of your next dish with Five Alternatives to Extra Virgin Olive Oil that taste great and still pack a healthy punch.

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Go ahead and splurge on salmon. It's one of the best sources of omega-3 fatty acids, which can reduce your of heart disease. In fact, women who never eat fish have 90 percent more cardiovascular problems than those who eat seafood weekly, say Danish researchers.

Get started with the Smoked Salmon Scramble recipe.