Our hearts pump blood and oxygen around our bodies around eighty times per minute, which keeps our vital organs working and us alive. But it’s often not until your GP takes your blood pressure or suggests a cholesterol test that you start to wonder, is your heart as healthy as it should be? Today we're taking a look at some ways to improve your heart health and keep your heart in tip top shape.
Heart Health & Cardiovascular Disease
Cardiovascular disease is the biggest cause of mortality and premature death in Ireland, so it’s important to know what causes it and how we can take responsibility for our own health by making some simple changes to our diet and lifestyle.
Many people associate Cardiovascular disease with age but the truth is that the changes leading to cardiovascular disease start to occur in the first decade of life. This means you’re never too young to start thinking about your health.
The good thing for anyone that may already have risk factors such as high blood pressure or cholesterol is that these can be treated with dietary and lifestyle changes. You just have to be strict with yourself! Here’s a few simple ways to improve your heart health, that you can implement right now.
8 Ways to Improve Your Heart Health
1. Work in Some Exercise
Regular exercise is a major protective factor against coronary heart disease and stroke. It has favourable effects on blood lipids, obesity, hypertension, glucose tolerance and stress which all play a role in the development of cardiovascular heart disease.
It is recommended that adults get 30 minutes of exercise 5 times a week. Gentle exercise that warms you up and speeds up your breathing slightly is what your heart needs to keep in shape - check out some of the best exercises for heart health. Seniors are recommended to take it slower and to try and include muscle strengthening exercises. Try to choose exercise that promotes good balance such as yoga and pilates.
2. Eat a Healthy Diet:
When it comes to ways to improve your heart health, plant based foods reign supreme. Plant based foods are generally low in sugars, carbohydrates and saturated fats. If you include more of these foods in your diet, there will be less room for white breads, pastas, ready-made and fried foods. Plants contain natural stanols which prevent cholesterol from being absorbed by the body.
3. Reduce your saturated and trans fat intake
Not all fats are bad and we actually do need certain fats to make and repair cells and tissues. People often associate fat intake with high cholesterol levels. However diet has very little impact on raising cholesterol but can help lower it. The main fats to avoid are saturated and trans fats. Saturated fats are mainly found in meat and dairy products so chose lean cuts and low-fat milks.
Trans fats, the worst type as they lower the 'good' type of cholesterol and raise the 'bad' type are found mainly in baked and fried foods so limit your intake of these. Labels are often misleading as regards trans fats so avoid foods that contain “partially hydrogenated vegetable oil” in the ingredient list. The best oil to cook with is rapeseed oil and dress salads with olive oil.
4. Snack on Almonds
Studies have shown that almonds can help lower cholesterol and reduce weight when eaten daily. Almonds contain good fats, protein, fibre, nutrients and phytochemicals. Grab a handful of almonds (about 30g or 20 almonds) and eat alone as a snack, sprinkle on salads, throw into a stir-fry, grind them up and sprinkle on your breakfast or make your own nut butter to help you get them into your diet.
5. Take Omega 3 Oils
Omega-3, the type of fatty acid found in oily fish, fish oils and flax oil is a polyunsaturated fat. It has huge benefits for heart health by reducing triglyceride levels and being an anti-inflammatory.
Good fats help control insulin levels, reduce inflammation and metabolise cholesterol. Omega 3 oils can act as natural blood thinners, which can help prevent blood clots, which in turn, can reduce the risk of heart attack or stroke. If you don’t like fish, you could consider taking a fish oil supplement.
6. Give Red Yeast Rice a Go
Red Yeast Rice is a Chinese medicinal herb which is widely used to control cholesterol levels. It is said to be especially effective for hereditary high cholesterol as it can actually block cholesterol production. It comes in capsule form which is better if taken in the evening time.
7. And Relax!
Modern day living is stressful. Stress causes our body to produce stress hormones which increase blood pressure and heart rate. Over the long term, this isn’t good for our health so we need to learn to relax more (which can be stressful in itself)! Exercise is by far the best method. Turning off the phone and getting lost in a book or TV show can be good too.
More and more people are using mindfulness colouring books as a way to relax in the evenings. So switch off and sit down with a cup of caffeine free tea or if you're feeling adventurous, try matcha green tea. It contains an amino acid called L-theanine which may have some beneficial effects on anxiety.
8. Most Importantly - Keep Good Company!
A great way to improve your heart health is by keeping good company! Spending time with people you like reduces your risk of heart attack and stroke. Laughter works your muscles and reduces blood pressure. A happy heart is a healthy heart.
Please note, this blog is for informational purposes only and should not replace medical advice.
It’s always best to consult your doctor before taking any new supplements, treatments or remedies if you are pregnant, breastfeeding or on medication.
Checked and updated: 21 August 2021