There are many ways to help keep our hearts healthy, our circulation smooth and our blood vessels free of plaque. Certain conditions are inherited, but being aware of them can help us embrace the Active Wellness habits that counteract them. Our habits start with choices, and it depends on what we’re willing to do, give up or add to our lifestyles.
No smoking: It’s been decades since the benefits of not smoking cigarettes have been brought to light, but now, there are so many things other than cigarettes to smoke. The truth of the matter is, none of it is good for our heart or lungs – some substances can alleviate pain or quell nausea, but inhaled habitually, can cause heart and lung damage. In other words, quitting smoking means stopping the inhalation of a whole range of things – and vaping is ill-advised, too.
Curb belly fat: Certain parts of the body have a special impact on heart health. Research in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology has linked excess belly fat to higher blood pressure and unhealthy blood lip levels.1 Health practitioners advise us to try to decrease the belly fat through diet and exercise, not just from spot routines. In other words, a hundred sit-ups a day won’t get rid of belly fat, but losing some weight by eating better (or less) combined with a daily exercise routine that includes some form of cardio or aerobic activity, may do the trick.
Healthy snacks: We all know that eating right is critical for good health. When trying to eat the right foods, one of the things that is hard to do is to give up unhealthy snacking. The good news is that there are actually healthy snacks we can incorporate into our diets. One example is salsa. Salsa is a delightful mix of healthy vegetables as long as we don’t oversalt it. Add in some whole or blended beans – black, white, pinto, any other choices – and the salsa gets a big boost of heart-healthy fibre.
Omega-3 fatty acids: Another source of heart-healthy food is fish, due to its omega-3 fatty acid content. Not all fish are equal, but salmon, tuna, sardines and herring, for example, contain good amounts of omega-3 fatty acids. Nutritionists recommend eating fish twice a week, with the health benefits outweighing the risks of mercury ingestion.2
Eat the colour spectrum: Have you heard the saying, “eat the rainbow?” This simply means that a heart-healthy diet can be made up of naturally colourful food – green, red, yellow, orange, purple and blue – easily found in vegetables and fruits. Think of favourite fruits and vegetables and simply incorporate them into meals or eat them in between meals.
A half teaspoon of salt a day: Researchers have reported in The New England Journal of Medicine that a half teaspoon of salt is all we need per day!3 Salt is apparently one of the leading culprits of high blood pressure which in turn causes heart disease. Salt is a hidden menace found in excessive quantities in processed foods, many restaurant foods and especially fast-foods. Breaking the salt habit can be challenging, but for starters, never salt anything without tasting it first!
Dark chocolate: Dark chocolate contains heart-healthy flavonoids. These compounds help reduce inflammation and may lower the risk of heart disease, according to scientists in the journal Nutrients. Incorporating dark chocolate into a diet is prudent but not in copious amounts – a couple of squares is recommended.
Go Nuts: Thankfully, some fats are actually good for us! These heart-healthy fats come in the form of almonds, walnuts, pecans and even moderate amounts of peanuts. They also contain protein and fibre that act as fuel and digestive helpers. Although high in healthy fats, they’re also high-calorie so nutritionists advise eating small amounts daily.
Eat breakfast: Although intermittent fasting is trending for weight loss, breakfast truly is an important meal of the day, if not the most important one. To build a heart-healthy meal that ends the overnight “fast,” incorporate whole grains, such as oatmeal, lean protein such as peanut butter, yogurt or low-fat dairy milk (from animal or vegetable sources) and fruit, especially berries high in antioxidants and polyphenols.
Drink tea: Black or green, it’s our choice and either is healthy for the heart. In fact, drinking one to three cups of tea every day may help lower the risk of heart problems. So, have a “cuppa” and enjoy the possibility of lowering the risk of angina and heart attacks!
Fun exercises: Not everyone likes going to the gym and working out, but regular exercise is important for sustained heart health. There are many alternatives to working out. For example, dancing raises the heart rate and gets the lungs pumping. It also burns up to 200 calories or more per hour, and listening to music while dancing is an added pleasure. Walking, swimming, running/jogging, rowing, hiking and so forth, are all great alternatives to the gym and you can connect with nature at the same time.
Yoga: Another ongoing trend is the practice of yoga. Since it originated in India more than 5,000 years go, this “trend” has proven it’s here to stay. The western world had some catching up to do, but has now shown that yoga has the potential to improve heart health. By stretching virtually every part of the body (even ears, nose and mouth), yoga can help improve balance, flexibility and strength. It also helps relieve stress and helps improve sleep, all adding up to maintaining a healthy heart.
Get enough sleep: When we don’t get enough sleep, the heart is significantly impacted.4 It’s no surprise that the entire body needs its rest, but the heart works 24/7 and really needs to rest!
2nd February 2023