In the scheme of things good living can be challenging without good health. And most of us want to make healthy choices so we can age gradually and enjoy every stage of life.
Making healthy choices doesn’t have to be difficult. If we persevere with changing our minds about food and lifestyle choices our brain is capable of getting on board, it just takes time to adjust. And if we fail, we can just try again, until these choices become the norm. Simple!
If you’re at a point in your life where you know you have to change, whether it’s a lifestyle or an eating habit, this list of 10 top tips to a healthy heart is going to be your best friend.
1. Add Fibre
Eating plenty of fibre helps lower the risk of heart disease – and aim for at least 30g a day. There are some delicious and healthy fibre choices out there. Traditionally wholemeal bread, oats, legumes, wholegrain cereals, plus fruit and veg are great, but try some of the newer ‘ancient grains’ like spelt, teff, bulgur, and the pseudocereals quinoa, amaranth, buckwheat, and chia. These nutrient dense alternatives are definitely worthy of a place in the food cupboard.
Diet fads come and go but research consistently shows that eating high levels of fruits and vegetables lowers the risk of heart disease. This is due to the increase of antioxidants, fibre and water found in this type of food. Vitamin C, E, and beta carotene are among the most commonly studied dietary antioxidants.
3. Cut saturated fat
Our body’s cells need some fats to function, but the type of fat we consume makes all the difference. Generally speaking, healthier fats – specifically the mono- and poly-unsaturated types – are often liquid at room temperature. By comparison, the less healthy trans and saturated fats are typically solid at room temperature.
A diet high in fat, especially saturated fats, can raise cholesterol levels, which increases the risk of heart disease. Current UK guidelines advise that the average man have no more than 30g of saturated fat, and women no more than 20g per day. (1)
4. Avoid Stress
Stress triggers the production of the hormone cortisol, and the way you cope with both personal and professional stress may affect your heart directly, or affect other high risk factors that can lead to heart disease, such as blood pressure and cholesterol levels, and eating, drinking and smoking habits. If you’re feeling particularly overwhelmed by work or family life it may be worth having a word with your practitioner about alternatives.
Fortunately levels of cortisol can be naturally lowered with adaptogens like gingseng and rhodiola (2). Avoiding caffeine, alcohol, and late nights can help reduce these levels too. Rhodiola contains salisdoside which helps suppress that stress hormone and has been known to restore normal levels of eating and sleep (3).
5. Lose Weight
Being overweight can increase your risk of heart disease. Check your weight and adjust your diet and exercise so that the weight gradually comes off and stays off. Educate yourself on what a healthy weight for you should be, and if you have a particular method of exercise that works for you, do that. Some prefer to be part of a group in a gym, others like to workout at home, or jog, bike or walk. Just do what is right for you. (see also, Exercise More Often)
6. Get your 5 A DAY
Eat at least five portions of a variety of fruit and vegetables every day. They contain all the vitamins, minerals and fibre for a healthy heart. Add them to sauces and cereals and hide them (if you have to) in tasty curries and stews.
7. Cut salt intake
High sodium intake can lead to problems in the kidney function and increase blood pressure. High sodium levels cause the body to retain water rather than excreting it. The kidneys, that usually filter liquids through to your bladder, will retain water in order to try and dilute or flush out the sodium from your blood stream. This causes an increase in the blood pressure as there is more liquid passing through your blood vessels.
For healthy blood pressure, try adding less to your cooking. And check the salt levels of in ready-made foods. According to NHS UK, a ‘a food is high in salt if it has more than 1.5g salt (or 0.6g sodium) per 100g. Adults should eat less than 6g of salt a day in total – that’s about one teaspoon’.
8. Exercise More Often
Having and maintaining an exercise routine can reduce your risk of developing heart disease. It’s great for mood and stress management too.
NHS Uk recommends we do “150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity every week”. This equates to doing 30 minutes of activity for five days of the week.
9. Get Health Checks
Don’t forget to visit your doctor for an annual check up, this should at least include blood pressure and cholesterol testing and monitoring. Make sure to discuss any issues you may have with any medications you’ve been prescribed.
10. Quit Smoking
Quitting smoking is probably the best thing you can do to improve your heart health. There are so many chemicals found in tobacco smoke that can damage your heart, and you’re probably aware of this already. Smoking lowers your body’s supply of oxygen and causes blood vessels to get thinner. Cutting back or switching to low-tar and low-nicotine brands of cigarettes doesn’t work. It’s not enough to significantly reduce your risk of heart disease. When you quit smoking, the results are immediate, and your risk of developing heart disease starts to drop dramatically within the first year. Please read here for more information.
- Fat: the facts NHS
- Kelly, C.S., Rhodiola Rosea: A possible plant adaptogen. Alternative medicine review 6(3): 293 -302
- Ramazonoy, K.,Suarez, M (1999) New secrets of effective natural stress and weight management using rhodiola rosea and rhododendron caucasicum. East canaan/Safe Goods publishing