Simple tips to keep your heart healthy
With Meisha-Gay Mattis
The heart is responsible for a myriad of functions on a daily basis, including pumping about 5,000 gallons of blood throughout the body, which requires beating approximately 100,000 times. We cannot understate its importance—it literally keeps us alive and functioning.
February is Heart Month, which “aims to send an urgent wake-up call and increase awareness as the risk of heart disease continues to increase in Jamaica”, according to the Heart Foundation of Jamaica.
Heart disease is one of the leading causes of death among men and women, but there are several factors we can take into consideration to curtail this preventable epidemic. Your family history can be a contributing factor of heart disease to a certain extent. However, there are many factors to examine beyond that. Our genes are ‘dictators’ to a certain degree, but they don’t necessarily equate to creating our destiny.
There are a few key things that we can do to keep our hearts in tip-top shape. In honour of Heart Month, let’s look at some of these heart-healthy choices.
Track your resting heart rate (RHR)
RHR is a great indicator of your cardiovascular health, but what exactly is it? It’s basically the number of times your heart beats when you are inactive, which is resting or relaxing. Why should you track your resting heart rate?
- It helps in monitoring your cardiovascular health
- It helps to track your fitness level
- It helps in keeping you alert of certain illness and health issues
- It aids in preventing you from overtraining
The fitter or more active you are, resulting in a lower RHR, also means your muscles are in better condition. Getting the recommended 30 minutes of moderate to intense physical activity daily is a great place to start. Lower your RHR with an additional 15-20 minutes daily of any of these activities:
Exercise is easily one of the best things you can do to maintain a healthy heart. In addition to aerobic activities, a twice weekly strength training regimen can also be very beneficial.
Eat healthy foods
The easiest way to safeguard and treat your heart right is by eating more heart-healthy foods.
Treat your heart with these nutrient-dense foods that are not only great for your heart but makes the entire body and mind feel good.
Leafy greens, broccoli, oatmeal and beans/legumes
These are loaded with fibre that helps to regulate blood sugar levels and lowers cholesterol.
These are antioxidant-rich and loaded with folates and polyphenols that aid in expanding arteries and increasing blood flow.
Almonds, pistachios and walnuts
These are great heart-healthy snacks that are packed with polyunsaturated fatty acids that aid in containing the buildup of plaque in the coronary arteries.
Salmon, tuna and trout
These fish are rich in omega-3 fatty acids that help to decrease blood pressure and triglyceride levels, as well as reduce the risk of an abdominal aortic aneurysm, which occurs when the wall of a blood vessel swells, forming a bulge. In the aorta, which carries blood from the heart and runs down through the chest and the abdomen (belly), this bulging makes the wall weaker and more likely to burst.
Valentine’s Day is coming up, so make sure your chocolates are at least 70 percent cocoa. The flavanols they contain help to improve blood circulation between the brain and heart and also lower blood pressure.
Monitor your cholesterol
Ideal total cholesterol: 199 mg/dL or less
Ideal HDL: More than 60 mg/dL
Ideal LDL: Less than 100 mg/dL
Pay close attention to your LDL cholesterol, referred to as the ‘bad’ cholesterol because too much can create a blockage in the arteries that affect the blood flow, resulting in an increased risk of a heart attack. Simple way to monitor your cholesterol include:
- Doing a cholesterol check every 4-5 years
- Paying attention to your waistline – a 40-inch waistline for men increases their risk and a 35-inch increase for women.
- Managing your weight. You are at a greater risk of high cholesterol with a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or greater.
Curtail your stress levels
Your heart rate, blood flow and adrenaline can easily spike when you are stressed or anxious. A multitude of these constant situations can easily increase your resting heart rate, which in turn could increase your risk of cardiovascular disease. Stress is unavoidable and in some cases, the best thing you can do is just to take a step back and calm the mind. A simple breathing technique is a great way to try and release tension and anxiousness at times.
Breathing from your diaphragm instead of your chest allows oxygen to go deep into your lungs. The aim is to get the breath to move from your belly to your chest.
- Place one hand on your belly and the other hand on your chest.
- Make sure you are sitting upright with good posture.
- Breathe in through your nose for four counts.
- Hold for one count.
- Slowly release the air through pursed lips for four counts.
- Repeat for 10 breaths.
Tension and relaxing breathing
Contracting your muscles distracts the mind from unwanted stressors. This technique should help decrease anxiety through interval relaxation
- Close your eyes, tense the muscles in your body, start at top of your head, and finish at your toes.
- Take a slow, deep breath through your nose and hold it for four seconds.
- Exhale through your mouth while slowly releasing all of the muscles in your body.
- Repeat for 10 breaths.
Contributed by Meisha-Gay Mattis, founder of Bodhi, a Kingston-based holistic wellness company. She is a certified Integrative Nutrition Health Coach and Personal Fitness Trainer.
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