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.
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.
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.
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?