Since ages poets and writers romanticize heart and relate it to the emotional side of us humans. It has been stated as the symbol of love. They say our hearts starts beating faster when we catch a glimpse of someone we love. While all this sound alluring, our human heart has a much bigger role to play in our lives than making us fall in love. It is the organ that pumps oxygenated blood from the lungs to the body, delivering nutrients and oxygen to every tissue, organ and cell in our body. It also pumps the deoxygenated blood with carbon dioxide and waste from our body to the lungs. Basically, it acts like the engine of a car, keeping us alive and active. The health of our heart determines the length and quality of our life. Therefore, if you wish to live a long and happy life, taking care of your heart should be the first thing on your list. Here’s everything you need to know about keeping your heart healthy.
Choices Affecting our Heart Health
Studies show that cardiovascular or heart diseases affect every one in three adults in United States alone. What is the reason behind such disturbing heart health statistics? Age, Sex and genetics play an important role in a person’s chances of developing a heart disease. While we cannot control these factors, there are many other risk factors that make our heart prone to diseases. Lack of physical activity resulting in weight gain; unhealthy food habits and bad lifestyle choices are other major factors affecting the health of our heart. Fortunately, these causes of heart problems have a simple cure. Let’s discuss each one of them in detail below.
- Lack of Physical Activity
Exercise plays a key role in maintaining our overall health. Obesity and weight gain our definite outcomes of “no, play; all work routine”. Due to long working hours and busy schedules, workout is shifted down below on our priority list. As a result of sitting all day for work with very little physical activity, most of us gain weight. Lack of movement may also affect blood levels of sugar and fats. A sedentary lifestyle is the top contributing factor in developing a heart disease. Active lifestyle, with a daily exercise routine makes your heart muscles stronger and healthier. Daily workout can help you burn calories, lower blood pressure, reduce bad cholesterol and boost good cholesterol. Following are some exercises that you must include in your daily routine to maintain a healthy heart.
A study conducted by the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research confirmed that simple stretching exercise can significantly improve HRV (Heart Rate Viability) and resting heart rate. Therefore, including stretching routines in your daily workout sessions can significantly contribute to your heart health. Flexibility will be an added bonus of stretching.
- Aerobic exercise
Aerobic exercises, which includes walking, running and biking etc. is the most important way to keep your heart healthy. Regular aerobic exercise can help in keeping blood pressure in check, improve cholesterol level, reduce stress and battle depression, decrease diabetic blood sugar, weight loss and much more. Researches show that we should exercise aerobically three times a week for at least 30 minutes to keep our heart healthy.
- Weight Training
Moderate weight training or strength training is essential for heart patients, says The American Heart Association. Weight training exercises helps build muscle mass and burn fats. You can go for weights, resistance bands or your own body weight for your strength training. Resistance training in addition to enhancing the benefits of aerobic exercises also provides the benefit of increased functional capacity.
Tip: If you are a beginner start with 30 minutes of moderate-intensity workouts like brisk walking, for 5 days in a week. You can slowly build up and make your workouts longer and more challenging, once your body adjusts to the routine.
- Unhealthy Food Habits
Undoubtedly, we all are tempted towards a cheesy burger or a pizza more than a bowl of salad or soup. But our favorite cheese and calorie rich food are high in saturated fats, which not only increases our waist line but also the cholesterol in our blood. As a result it increases the risk of a heart disease. Fueling our body with low-fat food is the best thing we can do for our heart and body. A healthy and balanced diet, which is low in fats and sugar will not only help in maintaining the ideal body weight, but also reduces the risk of developing a heart disease. Here are some heart-healthy diet tips that can help you prevent a heart disease.
- Eat more fiber
Fiber helps to lower the risk of a heart disease. Fruits and vegetables are rich in dietary fibers, vitamins and minerals. They also contain important nutrients, which help prevent any cardiovascular disease. A well-balanced diet consists of five portions of fruits and vegetables. It can also include fresh or frozen greens, pulses, beans and unsweetened fruit juice etc.
- Limit unhealthy food
Reducing the intake of saturated fats and Trans fats plays an important role in a heart-healthy diet. Unhealthy food can increase the cholesterol level in the blood, which leads to build up of plaques in the arteries also called atherosclerosi and increases the risk of heart-attack. Reduce the intake of solid fats like butter, margarine etc and go for lean meats.
- Go for low-fat protein source
Substitute fried chicken patties with skinless chicken breasts and whole milk with skimmed milk. You can also go with fish to include low-fat proteins in your diet. Certain fishes are rich in Omega-3 Fatty acids, which help lower blood fats. Low-fat protein rich diet help maintain your calorie and nutrients intake, keeping your heart healthy.
- Limit salt intake
Sodium contributes to high blood pressure and can increase the risk of cardiovascular diseases. Limiting the intake of salt in the food is an important part of heart-healthy diet. Canned and processed food like soup and frozen dinner contributes majorly to your sodium intake. Make fresh food with less salt your priority in order to keep your heart healthy. 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans state that an adult should consume less than 2300mg of sodium per day.
Tip: How much you eat is just as important as what you eat.
- Bad Lifestyle choices
We have already established the importance of exercise and well-balanced diet for achieving a healthy heart. But your healthy-heart goals cannot be achieved without certain lifestyle changes. Overindulging in alcohol, cigarette smoking etc can undermine all your efforts towards a healthy heart. Studies show that the biggest contributor towards heart diseases is the lack of commitment for heart-healthy habits and lifestyle.
It’s okay to enjoy a glass of bubbly and a drink or two on special occasions but alcohol intake should always be in moderation. Overindulging in alcohol can lead to high blood pressure, obesity, risk of stroke, cancer, lung diseases and much more. Even binge drinking can lead to irregular heart rhythms or arrhythmias. AHA recommends an average of two drinks for men in one day and one drink for women.
Smoking cigarettes, cigars or pipes is just as bad for the heart as it is for our lungs. Smoking can cause coronary heart disease and also a risk of a heart attack. It leads to a buildup of atheroma which narrows the artery and damages the lining of our heart arteries. So if you smoke, quit smoking. If you know someone who smokes encourage them to quit smoking as well.
Stress is a part of life. Sometimes due to work pressure and sometimes due to personal issues, we all face stress or anxiety at some point in our lives. It is normal as long as managed properly. But if neglected for long, can lead to increased heart rate and blood pressure due to release of adrenaline. Therefore, stress in itself is a risk factor for heart diseases.
We all agree that lack of sleep affects our functionality and leads to fatigue, bad mood, lack of focus etc. But do you know that sleep deprivation on a regular basis can have long-term consequences on our health. Diabetes, high blood pressure and heart diseases can be a result of lack of sleep. Our heart is the hardest working organ of our body. If we don’t sleep adequately even our cardiovascular system doesn’t get proper rest. Treat sleep as a priority, rather than a luxury and make sure of the correct sleeping posture. If you suffer from the problem of acid reflux, use bed wedges and have a proper 7-8 hours sleep.
Tip: Making changes to your lifestyle is a process and occur gradually. Write out the changes you want to make and set goals.
We all consider ourselves healthy as long as we do not incur any symptoms of a disease. But always remember, “Prevention is better than cure”. Follow this heart-healthy lifestyle and live a long and happy life.
Janice Cook is a twenty something girl with a passion for things related to health and fitness. Being a writer, even I spend most of my time glued to my desk and as a result developed back problem. Although stretching exercises and a wedge pillow for correcting the posture helped me get rid of the pain, it got me curious and inspired at the same time to write about the various causes and cures of back problem.