Tag Archives: cardiovascular

Feed Your Body for Summer Activities

Cardiac Climbers Bike Team

Our team for the Courage Classic. Go Cardiac Climbers!

My husband and I just completed our first long-distance bike tour this weekend.  We rode in the Courage Classic, a 3-day tour of the beautiful mountain passes of Summit County, Colorado.  The Courage Classic is a benefit ride to raise funds for Children’s Hospital: we got to be part of  the Cardiac Climbers team which specifically rides to support kids in the cardiac unit.  How inspiring!  Between the friendly and supportive team members, getting to meet some of the kids we were riding for, and the amazing scenery, the weekend was an amazing reminder of how blessed we are to live in such a beautiful state with such a wonderful community.

On a health note, this weekend was also an excellent reminder to me of how we can best support our bodies during the summer months.  During the summer, we focus on eating and drinking for optimal performance of physical tasks.  Whether we are putting our energy towards tending the garden or farm, climbing mountains, riding bikes, or other sports, we tend to spend much more time outdoors being active during this time of year.

With this in mind, the body systems that need the most focus during the summer are the cardiovascular system, muscles, and hydration.   The cardiovascular system is essential to athletic endeavors because it delivers oxygen and nutrients to the body; the heart must keep up with the demands on the muscles.  Foods high in bioflavonoids such as berries, peppers, and tomatoes support healthy blood vessels.  Foods with a high Omega-3 fat ratio such as salmon and flax oil help to keep cholesterol levels balanced and our arteries clear.  Also, high fiber foods such as leafy greens, apples, flaxseed  and carrots will help rid the body of excess cholesterol.

Healthy muscles can be supported on several levels:  Muscular growth and maintenance requires protein.  Although we generally need less heavy meats throughout the summer, making sure you eat adequate proteins from nuts, seeds, fish, dairy, and other animal proteins will provide the building blocks for healthy muscle tissue.  Electrolyte balance is also critical for muscle performance.  Regular salt, of course, is important, but including good sources of potassium such as avocado or coconut juice, and magnesium from nuts and seeds is also critical.  Finally, hydration is absoutely key for athletic performance: 6-10 cups of water or herbal tea per day and even more when you are exercising will prevent muscle cramping and help with good blood flow.

Also, because foods from the garden are abundant and fresh, we want to maximize their nutritional value.  Summer is an ideal time to shift our diet towards more raw, vegetarian fare.  Vitamins, enzymes, and phytonutrients are most intact in foods that are fresh from the ground and uncooked.  Because the weather is warm, the body can break down foods more easily and has more “digestive fire” to utilize the nutrients in raw fruits and vegetables.   Foods that must be cooked, such as meats, should be cooked to just done on a grill or under the broiler rather than stewed or put in the slow cooker.

This summer, find what inspires you and go out and do it!  Just make sure your body is getting the nutrition to keep up with the inspiration. Eat well, drink plenty of water, sleep enough and go get ‘em.

Love and Chocolate

I have been listening to my great grandmother Sonia lately when she talks about food.  She will turn 102 next week, lives on her own, cooks all her own meals, has all her own teeth, good eyesight and is mentally sharper than most so I think she must have something figured out.  She has some good rules to live by:  make your own food, if you do eat out only eat vegetarian or fish, and she never makes meat two nights in a row.  However, if you ask her why she has lived this long, she will reply without hesitation “it’s because I eat chocolate every day.”

Now, don’t get me wrong, this certainly isn’t a health decision she is making; we brought her a box of truffles last birthday and after asking my husband to open the bag, her eyes lit up and I think she downed six of them before we left the room.  Healthy or no, her relationship to chocolate (and mine, and I suspect a few of yours out there as well) is pure love.

So in honor of grandma Sonia’s passion and in pursuit of longevity and lifelong health, let’s talk a bit about love and chocolate.  The research is showing more and more what those of us who are devotees to chocolate have suspected all along; chocolate is good for us and makes us feel good.  It improves the two things most crucial to love; the way our minds function and the health of the heart.

There are three primary physiological responses that have been documented in humans in response to chocolate consumption:  Antioxidant activity, decrease in platelet aggregation, and blood vessel dilation.  As an antioxidant, the polyphenols in chocolate have been found to be quite active.  We hear quite a bit about the importance of antioxidants these days; stress, chemical exposure, smoke inhalation, and other toxins cause oxidative damage to our cells.  Especially in the blood vessels, this can lead to inflammation and eventually atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries).  Antioxidants, especially those found in chocolate, can prevent this type of damage.  Chocolate is also good for the cardiovascular system because it helps to decrease platelet aggregation, which means the blood becomes less “sticky” and flows more easily through the heart and blood vessels.  Over time, this can help to prevent heart disease.

Finally, the flavanols in chocolate have been shown to assist with dilation of the blood vessels.  The innermost layer of the arteries, called the endothelium, is made up of cells that can contract or relax to allow different amounts of blood through.  Chocolate flavanols assist in relaxing those cells to allow greater blood flow.  This can have several positive affects:  following chocolate consumption, studies have shown improvement in mood due to increased blood flow to the brain.  Cognitive function has also shown improvement in those who have recently ingested chocolate for the same reason.  The relaxation of blood vessels also can cause a decrease in blood pressure that is useful for battling hypertension.  As the research has shown, chocolate helps us to feel happier, think more clearly, and keep our hearts healthy.

Happy Valentine’s Day, grandma Sonia.  Enjoy our chocolatiest holiday, and may we all live well and long by your example.