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Wednesday, 10 February 2016

Looking After Your Heart

It goes without saying that your heart is incredibly important, and it needs to be looked after. Your heart has to last you a lifetime, but if you treat it badly then that lifetime could be cut short. There are many things we can do to keep the heart happy and healthy and prevent conditions that could lead to heart disease or heart failure.

The heart is working constantly to keep you alive and it's vital to keep all your other organs running too, so of course we have to look after it as best we can! With fast-food consumption on the rise and people exercising less the rate of heart disease is going up, and it's become the main cause of early death (under 75) in the UK and almost 3,000 Americans die from heart disease every single day. Keeping your heart healthy is actually very easy, and it's something that needs to be taken more seriously.

Healthy Eating
Diet plays a key role in heart health, and eating 'bad' foods has devastating effects on the heart. Eating  foods high in the bad kinds of fat (found in ready meals, takeaways, pizza, processed meats, etc) and cholesterol can cause buildup of plague in your blood vessels, forcing the heart to work harder as it tries to pump blood around your body. High amounts of sodium (salt) is another big bad factor, as this  holds excess fluid in your body which again makes your heart have to work really hard, and increases blood pressure too. Try to cut down on the processed foods in your diet and switch the vegetable/sunflower oil for heart healthy coconut oil or extra virgin olive oil. Watch out for foods with added sugar and salt especially, as they sneak into everything from pasta sauces to peanut butter!
Limiting the bad foods is a definite must if you want to look after your heart, but eating the heart-healthy foods is just as important and thankfully there's some really delicious and amazing foods that will help keep your heart beating blissfully! Soluble fibre is wonderful for the heart as it helps to lower the bad cholesterol in the body, in fact it actually binds the cholesterol particles in the digestive system and moves them out of the body before they can be absorbed. Fibre also helps to lower blood pressure and encourages a healthy weight, both very important for health health. Foods like oats are particularly great as they contain a lot of fibre as well as omega-3 and iron - yay for porridge! Other fibre rich foods are chickpeas, lentils and beans.
I said early that some fats are bad for the heart, which is true, but some fats are essential for the wellbeing of your beautiful heart. Mono-saturated fats are total superfoods as they help to lower the bad cholesterol in your body whilst upping the good cholesterol, they also help the body to absorb other nutrients into the body that protect your heart such as beta-carotene. This means you get to enjoy avocado and almond butter!
Anti-Inflammatory and anti-oxident foods are of course amazing and significantly lower your risk of heart disease - so eating fresh berries, turmeric, grapes and nuts is brilliant. Omega-3 fatty acids come into the anti-inflammatory section, so get some flaxseed and chia seed into your life or if you eat fish salmon and mackerel are good choices.
Whole grains should always be included in a healthy diet as they provide the body with so much energy and nourishment. Research suggests that whole grains massively reduce the risk of heart disease and strokes - this means means switch your white rice for brown rice, cut out the processed white breads for rye bread, buy some brown rice pasta and get munching on buckwheat. These whole grains provide your body with zinc, iron and selenium which will keep you happy and they taste really good! Other foods which have been shown to contribute to heart health are spinach, green tea, sweet potatoes, peas and kale.

Regular Exercise
Getting your body moving is something your heart will definitely thank you for! Did you know that a sedentary lifestyle doubles your risk of dying from heart disease? Yep, quite worrying isn't it, so it's time we started moving more. When we exercise the heart, as well as all other parts of the body, become more efficient and are able to work better. The heart is able to pump blood through the body with less effort and your blood pressure becomes more controlled, with regular exercise the benefits improve - blood flow improves, your body's tissue gets more oxygen, bad cholesterol is flooded out of the body and your heart becomes less stressed. We should aim to do some physical activity every single day, whether it's a strenuous gym workout, a walk with the dog or 15 minutes of yoga but 30 minutes of medium-intensity workouts 5 times a week is what's recommend by professionals.
I advise finding what works best for your body and your lifestyle, but for me I like to change my workouts quite a lot to keep my body guessing and so I don't get bored! I practise yoga every day, I do HIIT 3 times a week and I've recently gotten into strength training (with weights and kettle bells).
Remember becoming more active doesn't mean you have to turn into a gym-bunny, but make smarter choices like taking the stairs instead of the lift, getting off the bus one stop earlier or walking to the shops instead of driving.

Quit Smoking
We all know smoking isn't good for us, and it's especially dangerous for your heart. Whatever your age it is never too late to quit, and it's one of the most important and beneficial things you could do for your health (physically and mentally) - as soon as you do your health will improve and within 1 year of quitting your risk of a heart attack will have reduced by 50%!
Smoking damages the lining of the arteries, leading to the build up of fatty material that block the arteries, this can cause a heart attack or a stroke. Tobacco reduces the amount of oxygen in your blood too, which means your heart has to work insanely hard in order to pump blood all around your body. On top of all this nicotine acts as a stimulant, making your body produce adrenaline, which results in your heart beating faster and raising your blood pressure - not good at all!
Second-hand smoke is also dangerous, so watch out for that.

Limit Booze
Drinking more than you should do can have a very harmful effect on the body - as well as contributing to liver problems, cancer, weight gain and stroke it also causes abnormal heart rhythms and high blood pressure. No-one is saying you shouldn't ever drink, but you should stick to no more than 14 units of alcohol per week (more about units here) and avoid binge drinking. We should also have days in the week where we don't drink any alcohol at all, preferably 3 or more.

Your heart has got to last you your whole life, and it works damn hard to keep you alive so giving it a little helping hand and treating it how it deserves and needs to be treated is the least we can do!

Live Happy, Live Healthy


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