5 Ways To Support Heart Health
Why is Heart Health important?
February is National Heart Month. According to the British Heart Foundation, heart and circulatory diseases are responsible for 1 in 4 of all deaths in the UK. Averaged out, this equates to:
- Over 160,000 deaths each year
- 460 deaths each day
- One death every three minutes
… linked to cardiovascular disease in the UK.
This is why it is important to maintain heart health. But what does it mean to be ‘heart-healthy’ in practice?
Building a healthy heart is a process, made up of many different building blocks. In this blog, we will look at 5 key building blocks that you can put in place to improve your heart health. Starting with making sure you have a heart healthy diet.
1. Choose a Heart Healthy Diet
Food can influence heart health in many ways – for worse or for better. There are some foods which may increase cholesterol, inflammation or blood pressure. There are also foods which are good for the heart.
So, what are the best heart healthy foods to include in your daily diet?
- Wholegrains: such as brown rice, oats, rye and quinoa. Studies have shown that including three portions of wholegrains in your daily diet could reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease by 22%! (On the other hand, refined (white) carbohydrates can actually increase the risk of heart disease.)
- Oily Fish & Omega 3. Oily fish are those which tend to have pink flesh – salmon, tuna, trout, mackerel and sardines. Eating at least three portions of oily fish every week has been associated with a decreased risk of cardiovascular disease, as well as lower cholesterol. If you don’t like to eat fish, omega 3 supplements can be a great alternative. Choose one which provides 250mg of the Omega 3 fat DHA daily, to help to maintain heart health.
- Beans & Pulses. High in fibre, and low in fat, beans and pulses are a great source of healthy protein. Over 26 clinical studies have shown that eating a diet rich in beans and pulses will significantly decrease levels of bad cholesterol.
- Nuts, particularly walnuts & almonds. Nuts are an excellent source of micronutrients. Adding a small handful of walnuts and almonds to your daily routine will provide a healthy snack, which could also help to maintain heart health.
- Garlic. Studies have shown that garlic-rich diets could help to improve heart health. This is thanks to a compound called allicin, which is found in garlic. If you don’t like the taste of garlic in your food, the good news is that garlic can be taken in supplement form – often providing a high allicin content.
- Dark Chocolate. Cacao (found in dark chocolate) is rich in flavonoids which have been shown to help boost heart health. Eating a small amount of rich dark chocolate may actually decrease your risk of developing cardiovascular disease.
- Vitamin B1. Vitamin B1 is the vitamin for heart health. Ensuring a healthy intake of Vitamin B1 will support a healthy heart.
This is by no means an exhaustive list of all the ways you can change your diet to support heart health, but it should provide some simple and easy to achieve ideas.
2. Get Active
Being physically active is one of the best things that you can do to help support a healthy heart. This does not mean that you must immediately take up running (this could be a bad idea if you normally have a very sedentary life)! It means making small, achievable changes to try and be more active.
It has been suggested that you should aim for up to 60 minutes of activity, 3 or 4 times a week.
(You should consult your GP before undertaking any new fitness regime and find the most appropriate routine for yourself.)
Being active can include going for a walk, swimming, biking and light jogging.
Doing this will help improve heart health because it:
- Reduces blood pressure
- Reduces stress hormones
- Improves the flow of oxygen to the muscles
… all of which means less stress and pressure on the heart.
3. Think About Cholesterol
Most of us think about cholesterol as an inherently ‘bad’ thing. But did you know, your body needs a certain level of cholesterol to be healthy and so produces it naturally.
However, like so many things, moderation is key. Too much cholesterol can lead to an increased risk of heart attacks and stroke.
What is high cholesterol?
Cholesterol is measured via a blood test that looks at the total amount of cholesterol in your blood. There are four measurements to be aware of:
- LDL (low density lipoproteins AKA ‘bad cholesterol’)
- HDL (high density lipoproteins AKA ‘good cholesterol’)
- Triglycerides (fats)
- Total Cholesterol
If you have high levels of triglycerides and LDL, especially when compared to your HDL level, this will raise your risk if heart disease.
Can diet reduce cholesterol?
Making simple diet and lifestyle changes has been shown to have a big impact on LDL and triglyceride levels – and the sooner you get started, the better.
Moving towards that heart heathy diet and becoming more active will both be very helpful. Other steps which will target your cholesterol specifically include:
- Limit your intake of foods which are high in cholesterol. This includes foods high in animal fats, such as cheese, red meat and processed meat like bacon and sausage.
- If you are a smoker, look for a programme to help you stop or reduce smoking.
- Consider taking sterol supplements. Products which contain plant sterols, such as sterol supplements, have been shown to help naturally reduce cholesterol.
Sterol Supplements to Reduce Cholesterol
Studies have shown that taking at least 1600mg plant sterols daily will naturally help to reduce cholesterol levels. Plant sterol supplements tend to be the most cost-effective way of building plant sterols into your daily diet.
For those who have achieved healthy cholesterol levels, taking 800mg plant sterols every day can help to maintain healthy cholesterol.
4. Slow Down
Being stressed all the time is never good for our physical or mental wellbeing and has several negative effects on heart health.
Firstly, it increases levels of inflammation – which in turn can cause high blood pressure.
It also impacts your ability to take on board all the other steps to build a healthy heart we have just walked through!
If you are stressed, you are more likely to sleep poorly, more likely to feel exhausted, and more likely to crave sugar, alcohol, and cigarettes. This in turn means you are less likely to exercise, less likely to make good food choices and less likely to successfully stop smoking.
Slowing down, making some time for mindfulness, relaxation and calm, is therefore one of the most important building blocks to improving heart health. Read our previous blog all about Mindfulness here.
5. Make Someone’s Day
Finally, don’t forget about the other kind of heart health – look after yourself emotionally too. Tell those around you that you love them. Reach out to friends and loved ones. It will help you feel connected, and in turn reduce stress levels, which is aways good for your heart health.
Why not explore Natures Aid’s collection of supplements to support Heart Health here?