Want a healthier heart? Try these 8 things today
Thinking about watching what you eat and starting the new year on a healthier footing? Don't forget your heart – heart health is vital if you want to stay fit and healthy, and we're always hearing about things you should (or shouldn't) be doing in order to have a healthy, happy heart.
We want you to stay informed, so we've come up with 8 things you can try today, for a healthier heart tomorrow. The smallest changes can often make a big difference when it comes to heart health, so start small and build from there!
#1. Watch your weight
The Journal of the American College of Cardiology advises that you should focus on reducing weight around your middle in order to promote a healthy heart. Carrying too much weight around the middle can affect your blood lipids, raise blood pressure and damage your heart (1). Watching your calorie intake, exercising regularly and ab exercises which focus on toning your core can all be helpful – why not try our morning abs workout?
#2. Eat more fish
Research shows that regularly including fish rich in omega-3 fatty acids such as tuna, herring, sardines and salmon in your diet can dramatically reduce your risk of heart disease by as much as a third (2). Experts recommend eating one to two portions of oily fish a week for the best results.
#3. Laugh out loud
We know that smiling and laughing with friends are great mood boosters, and that humour can help to relieve stress and depression, but did you ever stop to think that those Family Guy re-runs could be beneficial for your heart too? Laughing out loud can relieve stress, which causes damage to the endothelium (the tissues lining blood vessels which is responsible for blood flow) and can also help blood vessels to function, according to the University of Maryland Medical Centre (3).
#4. Cut your salt intake
Salt is one of the main contributing factors in the rising heart disease rate – many processed and pre-packaged foods are high in salt, and experts recommend we should try to reduce our intake to half a teaspoon a day. Eating a diet rich in fresh fruit and vegetables and unprocessed foods can help. Fast food and even restaurant-prepared foods can all be high in salt.
Salt causes raised blood pressure which can damage the arteries leading to the heart – it can lead to angina. Over time, it can cause severe damage such as clogged or burst arteries – a heart attack (4). 80% of the salt we consume is hidden in ready-prepared foods, so try to cut back on these and use herbs and spices to add flavour to your recipes (5).
#5. Get more exercise
Your heart needs exercise to stay healthy, but you don't need to spend all your time at the gym! Just make sure you get 30 minutes of physical activity, five or more times a week, to reap the benefits. Try one of our 15-minute workouts in the morning before work, and then get another 15 minutes of activity after work, such as a rock climbing session, or even just a brisk walk home from the office. Regular exercise can help to maintain healthy cholesterol levels and control your blood pressure, cutting your risk of coronary artery disease (6).
#6. Quit smoking
Smoking is the single worst thing you can do for heart health. It increases your risk of heart disease but can also lead to elevated blood pressure, decreased levels of 'good' cholesterol and an increased tendency for blood to clot. In fact, smoking a pack of cigarettes a day means you're more than twice as likely to suffer a heart attack than a non-smoker. Whilst quitting completely is the ultimate goal for many smokers, even cutting back can significantly improve heart health.
Did you know that just 20 minutes after your last cigarette, your blood pressure and heart rate drop, and within three months, your lung function and circulation will have improved? One year after you quit smoking, your risk of heart disease will have dropped to half that of a smoker (7).
#7. Have heart health checks
A family history of heart disease could mean your heart is more at risk, so if your mother, father, brother or sister has had a heart attack or heart disease, you should have a checkup (8). Your GP may discover you have high cholesterol, which can be managed with medication. Or you could discover that your family member's heart attack was caused by smoking, meaning you're not at risk. Regular checkups can help you to maintain a heart-healthy lifestyle.
#8. Have some chocolate
Forget that we're constantly being told how bad chocolate is for us – it's the high fat and sugar content of milk chocolate which is to blame for chocolate's bad rep. Dark chocolate is a source of antioxidants and contains flavonoids which can help prevent heart disease – it can also have a positive effect on blood clotting (9). A couple of squares will do you more good than harm!
Following the 8 tips above will help you to enjoy a heart-healthy lifestyle in 2015, and by eating fewer processed foods and more fruit and vegetables, you'll also enjoy increased energy levels, clearer skin and a mood boost – brilliant! Remember, you only have one heart, so it's vital to protect it and ensure it stays healthy; the smallest changes can make a big difference.
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