6 ways to optimise heart health

by Khushboo on February 12, 2015

Even though we are almost 2 weeks into February (er what), Happy Heart Month!  With Valentine’s Day coming up on Saturday, there’s so much focus on loving those around us but what about taking a minute to for some self-loving and self-care?  Especially as heart disease is sometimes referred to as a ‘silent killer’ because it often has no symptoms or presents pain that is barely noticeable, I wanted to share 6 ways to optimise heart health.  Although these tidbits might be not be new information, I know we can all use the occasional reminder.  I’m capping it at 6 to prevent this post from becoming overly lengthy but seriously, there are SO many small ways to improve our heart health in a big way.  And let’s be real here: prevention > cure always:  

1) Switch to whole grains: Day or night, I’m all for eating carbs but preferably when they are unrefined & minimally processed.  Amongst various nutrients, whole grains are a good source of dietary fiber that essentially plays a role in regulating blood pressure, cholesterol, triglyceride levels & overall heart health.  My personal faves include oats, brown rice, quinoa (well, a seed if we are being all technical) & rye toast. 

Egg Fried Rice Topped with Grilled Salmon

Egg Fried Rice Topped with Grilled Salmon

2) Stop smoking: Sorry to be a buzzkill but it is what it is. I recently read a statistic that smokers are almost twice as likely to have a heart attack compared to people who have never smoked.  Smoking damages the lining of your arteries, leading to a build up of fatty material which narrows the artery. This can cause angina, a heart attack or a stroke.  The nicotine in cigarettes also stimulates the body to produce adrenalaine which makes the heart beat faster and raise blood pressure, making the heart work harder than normal. 

3) Eat less sodium: Although sodium is a necessary electrolyte for our body, it’s all too easy to eat in excess given our generation’s reliance on packaged food & take-out.   One way that sodium affects heart health is through an increase in blood pressure because it holds excess fluid in the body, creating an added burden to your heart.  The easiest way to get around this is to start reading labels: the RDA for healthy adults is no more than 2,300 mg per day.

 

Flaxseeds

Flaxseeds

4) Add more sources of monounsaturated fatty acids to your diet: This might be my favorite tip of the lot.  To put it simply, eating moderate amounts of monounsaturated fats helps protect your heart by lowering blood pressure, improving your cholesterol profile and reducing your overall risk of cardiovascular disease.  Ideal sources include olive oil, nuts & nut butters, avocado, and seeds. 

5) Manage your stress levels: While a small bit of stress can certainly be a good thing, there comes a point when being too stressed out starts to be harmful on our health.  When constantly faced with stress, our bodies react by increasing muscle tension, heart rate and blood pressure. Over time, these changes can cause bigger health problems.  Although sometimes easier said than done, managing stress levels can be as easy as:

  • Allocating “me time”
  • Saying “no” to certain projects, proposals or tasks that push you past your limits
  • Eliminating toxic people from your lives i.e. people who leave you feeling worked up and/or add no value
  • Asking for help. 
Rice Cakes Topped with Mashed Avocado

Rice Cakes Topped with Mashed Avocado

6) Exercise: Although various studies show that strength training is more effective for leaning out and strengthening our bones & muscles, cardio too has its merits especially in terms of strengthening  the heart.  To prevent heart disease & stroke, the American Heart Asssociation recommends at least 150 minutes per week of moderate exercise or 75 minutes per week of vigorous exercise (or a combination of moderate and vigorous activity) (Source) . That merely means going for a 30-minute brisk walk 5 days a week…even the busiest of people can fit that in! 

On that note, Happy (early) Valentine’s Day!  Love yourself & those around you…and also be sure to eat a decent amount of chocolate.  After all chocolate contains phenethylamine, which releases endorphins.  Endorphins make you happy and let’s be honest, happy people are bound to be less stressed #justsayin’. 

What’s one heart-healthy thing you’ve done today? 

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{ 22 comments… read them below or add one }

Arman @ thebigmansworld February 12, 2015 at 3:18 pm

Okay…This might be a bad time to admit I legit have a salt shaker next to me at all meal times- Especially if it’s something sweet like oatmeal or pancakes.

Do I really need to quit smoking? Great tips though! Saturday morning- Breakfast will be rye toast with vegemite and avocado.

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Khushboo February 16, 2015 at 9:26 am

Haha it’s not bad at all! When your diet isn’t heavily dependent on processed foods, I personally don’t think it’s too much of an issue to add salt on meals- if anything, it helps enhance the flavour.

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Jen @ Bagels to Broccoli February 12, 2015 at 6:41 pm

I will admit that I have tried smoking once, but both times I had had a few drinks too many :/. I took one drag or whatever it’s called, and was like WHAT AM I DOING. I’ve never once had a temptation to try it.

I think the sodium thing is tricky and simple at the same time. I don’t think people should not use salt to season their food (because SO BLAND) especially if they’re eating real, whole food sources found in nature. And that’s the key – if you (mainly) nix the processed foods, the sodium issue is essentially solved for you.

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Khushboo February 16, 2015 at 9:27 am

I completely agree about using salt- when you’re eating a minimally processed diet, adding salt is hardly an issue. And a lot of the times, it’s needed to enhance a meal’s flavour.

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Shashi at RunninSrilankan February 12, 2015 at 7:50 pm

Great post Khushboo – my dad was a long timer smoker – he started when he was in his teens and even though he ended up quitting when he was in his 70’s – the damage was done – and it hurt to watch him struggle so much the last 5-7 years of his life with heart disease. Heart disease might be a silent killer – but sometimes, as in my fathers case, it can be a slow killer too – he slowly lost his ability to walk – to just stand up, to drink liquids without thickener; he also had trouble remembering as his heart slowed down. So I am ALL about NOT smoking and taking care of my ticker! I make it a point to workout everyday – and eat chocolate – finished that first one, but working on getting to that second one now… 🙂

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Khushboo February 16, 2015 at 9:27 am

Sorry to hear that the last few years of your dad’s life weren’t easy…but it’s amazing that you have used it as a source of motivation to take care of your heart and overall wellbeing :)!

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Chelsea @ Chelsea's Healthy Kitchen February 12, 2015 at 10:57 pm

Great post! Love that you included stress as a point too – that is one that is so often overlooked. And sadly it’s the one I most need to work on. That and sleep. Ugh.

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Khushboo February 16, 2015 at 9:28 am

It’s so true- stress is often viewed as an “afterthought” when it comes to health/weight loss but in actuality, it makes more of an impact that diet & exercise.

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Laura @ Sprint 2 the Table February 13, 2015 at 1:04 am

Sodium is such a big soap box with me… once I started looking at it I was horrified to see the amounts added to our food – even stuff we think is “healthy.” Ever look at some of the protein powders and those protein pancake mixes? It’s crazy!

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Khushboo February 16, 2015 at 9:29 am

Oh goodness- I KNOW! Even seemingly sweet foods contain so much sodium…it’s quite scary!

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Letizia@thefitlabel February 13, 2015 at 4:17 pm

Great post! My main problems are salt and stress. I am a very stressed person by nature, and working in the M&A department of a big law firm doesn’t help. And salt is my weakness. I LOVE salty things and I put way too much salt on everything I eat. My blood pressure is really low so that’s part of the reason why I crave salt so much; my body actually wants the salt.

Growing up in Europe, it’s nearly impossible to survive your teenage years without touching a cigarette. I was a smoker for 5 years (from 15 to 20) and then I quit. It has been 5 years now and I don’t miss it at all.

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Khushboo February 16, 2015 at 9:30 am

That’s awesome that you were able to give up smoking and haven’t looked back- did you go cold turkey or wean yourself off? And in your case, that extra sodium sounds like it’s necessary :)!

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Amanda @ .running with spoons. February 13, 2015 at 8:18 pm

Stress, stress, stress! YES. I seriously think stress is at the root of all evil… especially because it often makes us abandon our healthy habits and turn to quick fixes instead. And I’m seriously loving that you put carbs in the #1 spot — a girl after my own heart <3

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Khushboo February 16, 2015 at 9:31 am

I agree about stress. SO much emphasis is put on diet and exercise but in reality, both make little difference if stress levels aren’t managed!

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Brittany February 13, 2015 at 10:57 pm

I’m about to go on my long run…that will be my first heart healthy activity! I did have a hearty and healthy breakfast too, so that counts!! 🙂 I also didn’t smoke today…or..ever. HAHA.

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Khushboo February 16, 2015 at 9:31 am

Hope you had a great run…and even if you don’t, I’m sure your heart is pleased :)!

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Harry February 16, 2015 at 7:31 pm

Your tips for managing stress level will be helpful for me. Thanks for writing such nice article.

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Khushboo February 18, 2015 at 11:27 am

Thanks Harry!

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Meghan@CleanEatsFastFeets February 17, 2015 at 5:11 am

I got the mono-saturated fats down pat. Those are some of my favorites. Bring on the seeds, the olive oil and nut butters. In fact, I had some of all three already today with more to come for dinner; with a dollop of veggies of course.

Also, I’m so grateful I quit smoking. My blood pressure and my cholesterol dropped dramatically as a result.

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Khushboo February 18, 2015 at 11:33 am

That’s so awesome that you noticed such vast improvements after quitting smoking…and kudos for actually doing so- never been a smoker myself but I can imagine that it was quite difficult at the time!

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Louise Letsome February 18, 2015 at 5:04 pm

I always seem to mess up when making quinoa 🙁 maybe I need to persevere more with it!? I recently upped the amount of fats I’m having, you gotta love peanut butter!

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Khushboo February 19, 2015 at 11:42 am

I used to have the same issue with quinoa until I realised the magical ratio which works like a charm: 1 part quinoa to 2 parts water….when it starts to boil, reduce the heat, cover & simmer for 8-10 minutes until the quinoa has absorbed all the water! End result is perfectly fluffy quinoa 🙂

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