Heart Health and Pregnancy

Posted on Feb 13, 2012

Did you know heart disease is the number one killer of women in the USA? February is Heart Health Month and pregnant and new moms have even more reasons to take care of their heart.
Here are 5 ways to improve your heart health when you are pregnant

1. Eat More Raw Fruits and Veggies

Even though many factors that put you at risk for heart disease are related to a genetic predisposition and family history, a 2011 study published in the Plos Medicine Journal found that the role genes play in cardiovascular health is not set in stone. Eating raw vegetables and fruits seems to compensate for some risks caused by variations in chromosome 9p21 which the study refers to as “one of the most robust genetic associations for cardiovascular disease.”

2. Reduce Stress

Stress causes blood vessels to constrict, which reduces blood flow. Find ways to reduce stress by looking at your schedule and allowing time for rest, relaxation and activities that keep your mind alert like reading and planning for the upcoming arrival of your baby and your role as a new mom. Being informed and knowing what to expect also takes a lot of the anxiety and stress out of pregnancy. So read books, talk to other moms and attend classes.

3. Laugh More

A recent study by the University of Maryland found that blood vessels expand when you laugh. People show a 30-50% increase in blood vessel expansion when watching a humorous movie compared to watching a stressful movie, this magnitude of change is consistent with the benefit you might see with aerobic exercise. An older study also found that the participants that had heart disease where 40% less likely to find certain situations funny. So take things lightly, foster a good sense of humor, and laugh often.

4. Exercise

Exercise in early pregnancy may improve blood vessel health. Studies published in the American Physiological Society found that exercise before conception and in early pregnancy increased the VEGF protein which helps maintain blood vessel health and also stimulates new blood vessel growth.

5. Get Enough Sleep

Lack of rest can contribute to heart disease, reports the Harvard Heart Letter, and has been linked to high blood pressure, atherosclerosis, heart failure, heart attack and stroke. Poor sleep increases the levels of C-reactive protein and other substances that reflect active inflammation. To get more sleep you can start by improving your sleeping habits: follow a regular schedule for going to bed and getting up and don’t watch TV or eat in bed. If you can’t sleep get out of bed and try to get some exercise in the afternoon. If you are still having a hard time falling asleep or staying asleep talk to you doctor.

Article written by: Paula Bendfeldt-Diaz
Healthy Start of Southwest Florida
1921 Jefferson Avenue
Fort Myers, FL 33901
(239) 425-6920

Sources:
1. American Physiological Society http://www.the-aps.org/
3. University of Maryland Medical Center http://www.umm.edu/news/releases/laughter.htm
4. Plos Medicine: http://www.plosmedicine.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pmed.1001106
5. Harvard Heart Letter: http://www.health.harvard.edu/newsletters/Harvard_Heart_Letter