20 Heartfelt Strides for a Healthy Heart
It’s time you be thankful and celebrate your heart!
This New Year, how about taking some serious steps to keep your heart in optimum condition? Did you know, in a day your heart circulates nearly two gallons (five litres) of blood bringing nutrients and oxygen via 60,000 miles (97,000 km) long network of vessels linking together the cells of your organs and body parts? That’s a hefty job for a fist-sized muscle, don’t you think? It’s time you be thankful and celebrate your heart! Show appreciation to your heart with these fun, simple and easy steps.
Move your body
You may be a busy person and fitting in a daily workout schedule can be an overwhelming thought. Research shows just 30 minutes of exercise a day can do wonders to your heart. Aerobic activities like walking, running and swimming are among the best to work the heart and help keep it robust. The best part is you don’t have to do it all at once. Just fit in 10 minutes here and 15 minutes there with activities like gardening, housekeeping, walking the dog, mowing the lawn, taking the stairs, all adding up to the total. Once you get the hang of it, increase the intensity, duration and frequency by making exercise a fun priority rather than a chore.
Do you still need to be reminded of this? If you’re a smoker, now is a good time to call it quits. No ifs or buts! Many studies detail the evidence that cigarette smoking is a major cause of coronary heart disease, which leads to heart attack. If you’re a second-hand smoker, be warned too as a study by University College of London mentioned that ‘people who breathe in a lot of other people’s tobacco smoke are twice as likely to die from heart disease’.
Watch the waistline
Yours, that is. Eat a balanced diet that is high in vegetables, fruits, fibre, lean protein and whole, unprocessed grains. Maintaining a proper weight according to your age and body type is being good to your heart. One easy way to find out your ideal weight is according to the Body Mass Index (BMI) by using the following formula: BMI = Weight (kg) / [Height (m) x Height (m)]. The desirable BMI range for adult (aged 18 and above) should be between 18.5 and 25.
Limit unhealthy oils and fats
Fine-tune your diet by limiting the amount of saturated and trans fats you eat. This is among the most important steps to lower your risk of coronary artery disease by way of reducing your blood cholesterol. High blood cholesterol level influences plaque buildup in your arteries, called atherosclerosis, which can increase your risk of heart attack and stroke. Make it a habit to limit saturated and trans fats in your diet by limiting the amount of solid fats – butter, margarine and shortening. As for fats, choose monounsaturated fats, such as olive oil or canola oil.
Slow down on salt…
Don’t wait till you’re diagnosed with high blood pressure or other heart related illnesses before cutting down your salt intake. Studies show that much of our high salt intake comes from outside food, canned food and processed food (Keep an eye on all the sodium versions). If you have to have your fast food fix, limit the number. If you fancy vegetarian mock meats, be careful. Mock meats are full of MSG, preservatives and colouring.
Adults who drink one or more sodas a day – diet or regular – have about a 50 percent higher risk of metabolic syndrome – a cluster of risk factors such as excessive fat around the waist, low levels of “good” cholesterol, high blood pressure and other symptoms a study by Boston University School of Medicine mentions. Excess fructose may even lead to reduced production of nitric oxide, a gas that blood vessels require to stay relaxed and dilated, said another study. Some findings have also linked consumption of large amounts of high-fructose corn syrup and any type of added sugar to increased triglyceride levels, which can boost your heart attack risk.
Polyunsaturated fats, found in nuts and seeds, are good choices for a heart-healthy diet and there is overwhelming scientific evidence suggesting eating at least 1.5 ounces of nuts per day may reduce the risk of heart disease and reducing bad (LDL) cholesterol. Almonds, pecans, walnuts, and other tree nuts pack a punch. (Our Feb ’10 issue had a whole topic on nuts. Be sure to read it).
Chocolates, especially dark chocolates are loaded with high amounts of antioxidants (plant-based compounds also found in red wine and green tea) called polyphenols that protect the heart from free radical damage that can aggravate the bad cholesterol in your blood and lead to clogged arteries. Studies have also found natural compounds in cocoa and dark chocolate to aid the cardiovascular system by improving blood flow, maintaining healthy arteries, and easing blood pressure.
Feast on fish
Limit red meat in your diet whenever possible because of its arteries clogging saturated fat content. Instead go for fish like salmon, herring, sardines and anchovies that are loaded with omega-3 fatty acids that is beneficial for your heart. Studies show that even a one serving of fish high in omega-3 fatty acids could reduce your risk of heart attack by 52%. Beside fish, you can also include flaxseed in your diet. Flaxseed is among the most potent sources of heart-healthy omega-3 fats, with possibility to reduce your risk of heart attack by 46%.
Add some garlic
The American Dietetic Association suggests 600 – 900mg (about 1 fresh clove) per day in order to obtain the potential health benefits of garlic; in particular lowering total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol (the bad cholesterol), and triglycerides. Garlic has also shown to lower blood pressure, prevent platelet aggregation and thrombosis (the formation of plaques in the blood).
Drink green tea
The Chinese have known the many medicinal benefits of drinking green tea for almost 4,000 years, using it to treat everything from weight loss to cancer. Although by no means conclusive, scientific studies have increasingly shown green tea to improve heart health including expanding the heart artery and enhancing blood flow, reducing heart attack incidence, reversing organ damage from heart attack and stroke, and keeping the arteries clear and preventing buildup of harmful plague. It also has shown to lower total cholesterol levels as well as raise the HDL (good cholesterol) level.
Go moderate with alcohol
Some studies say that moderate alcohol consumption of red wine and beer offers does offer some protection against heart disease for some people, like raising the HDL (good cholesterol) levels, preventing artery damage and reducing blood clot formation. Other studies disagree with these claims. At this point, there is no conclusive proof if moderate drinking is good for the heart as research is ongoing to clarify the relationship of alcohol and heart disease. Thus, go moderate (Defined as no more than one drink per day for women or lighter weight persons and no more than two drinks per day for men).
Floss your teeth
Regular flossing may even protect your heart as research has shown a connection between periodontitis and cardiovascular disease. Researchers also speculate that bacteria from the mouth can enter the bloodstream and contribute to inflammation and artery clogging. Remember regular flossing affects more than just the health of your mouth.
Get between the sheets
Having sex can be heart healthy. Yep, according to a recent finding published in the American Journal of Cardiology, men who made love at least twice a week were much less likely to have heart disease than those who limited their sexual encounters to once a month or less. The report said that the benefits of sex may be due to the physical and emotional effects on the body.
Researchers at West Virginia University School of Medicine found a link between sleeping less than seven hours a day and increased risk of heart disease. Those sleep deprived were found to have high ‘cortisol’ stress hormones in their blood stream, straining the heart. But here is the catch. The researchers also found sleeping more than seven hours a day also increased heart disease risk, including raised blood pressure and cholesterol. So, seven is the magic number for a good night sleep.
Have a good laugh at every opportunity you get. Like the saying goes, it is the best medicine. One recent study even demonstrated that laughing during mealtime (not with your mouth full) reduces the surge in blood sugar level and another, from University College London found that happier people are able to keep harmful hormone cortisol and other stress-inducing chemicals at bay. If you’re of the serious kind and keep grumpy lots as company, it’s time you see the lighter side of life. Watch comedy reruns or children at play. Children laugh over 300 times a day while adults only 15 times. Children laugh unconditionally whereas adults need a cause.
Pet are human’s true friend. They don’t judge or compare you and accept you as you are – that’s a big load off your shoulders, isn’t it? Pets give us unconditional love that contributes to numerous health benefits. In a study at the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine, pet owners had significantly lower blood pressure. Studies also show pet owners have less signs of heart disease like lower triglyceride and cholesterol levels than non-owners.
Pick up a hobby
Hobbies can be an effective tool in reducing stress and lowering blood pressure. It not only improves your mood and immune system. The relaxation and feeling of satisfaction and fulfillment you derive from your efforts are beneficial for your heart. The best hobbies are ones that combine a love of the task with achievement and purpose. It could be a solo effort or a collective one to meet a common goal. You could choose one hobby or a variety of hobbies to avoid boredom. What is important is that you enjoy it.
Ease the stress
When you’re under stress, your blood pressure is likely to go up. You may overeat, exercise less and most likely to smoke, creating a vicious cycle if you don’t know where to stop. Chronic stress may even elevate stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol, changing the way blood clots – and increasing your risk of heart attack. Taking time for reflection, meditation, positively staying connected with friends and family can help you to relax and see life from a different perspective.
Spirituality has been defined in many different ways. However way spiritually is seen, it greatly assists in finding meaning, hope, comfort, and inner peace in your life. Acts of altruism, compassion and selflessness, and the experience of inner peace are all characteristics of spirituality that can help one to improve coping skills and social support, foster feelings of optimism and hope, promote healthy behaviour, reduce feelings of depression and anxiety, and encourage a sense of relaxation. By promoting healing feelings and alleviating stressful ones, spirituality can positively influence hormonal and nervous systems, and also cardiovascular (heart and blood vessels).
There you go. A few simple steps you can start immediately for a hale and healthy heart. Remember to take good care of your heart. It’s the only one you have.