Beating an average of 100,000 times a day, a healthy heart pumps blood, full of oxygen and essential nutrients, to every organ, tissue and cell in your body, and carries away waste for disposal. Your heart keeps you going each and every day, but only if you treat it right! You see, according to the stats, you’ve got room for improvement.
It may be hard to believe but every seven minutes, someone in Canada dies from heart disease or stroke. In fact, most people in their 20s already have at least one risk factor against them. The good news is that there’s plenty you can do to reduce your risk of heart disease on a daily basis; tiny day-to-day changes can have a huge impact on your short and long-term health.
Here are 10 easy ways you can show your heart a lot more love.
1. Eat more plants.
Choose colourful vegetables, fruit, whole grains, beans, peas, legumes, nuts, seeds and their oils every day. These nutritional powerhouses are packed with minerals like potassium, magnesium and calcium, vitamins, antioxidants, and plenty of fibre, which are linked to improved blood pressure, lower cholesterol and blood sugar levels, and overall heart health
2. Get the facts straight on your fats.
Healthy, unsaturated fats and anti-inflammatory omega-3 essential fatty acids are key for good heart health. Choosing foods like salmon, trout, avocadoes, olive oil, chia and flax seeds often will make sure you get your healthy fat fix. Fats to limit or avoid include saturated and trans fats – both which are solid at room temperature and often found in processed or fried foods. These are linked to high cholesterol and heart disease.
Omega-3s are one of those “good for everything” type fats. They help to decrease inflammation in the body, may help with the prevention of cancer, depression, ADHD and brain development. They’re also good for your heart in a number of ways. They help to reduce triglycerides and cholesterol, they can help reduce the risk of an irregular heart beat (arrhythmias), and they can decrease high blood pressure. The flavored versions, including apple and lemon, make them a lot more palatable for people, which makes supplementation that much easier!
3. Consume CoQ10.
CoQ10 can taken as a supplement, and can also be found in beef, chicken, broccoli, mackerel and sardines. It serves as an antioxidant and is used in every cell to make energy. An average daily amount will only provide you with about 6mg. Where therapeutic amounts needed are usually around 30-500mg per day or higher! In studies, CoQ10 has been shown to be a safe and effective agent in lowering high blood pressure and improving the quality of life of those with heart failure.
4. Drink green tea.
Tea is the second most common drink consumed in the world. Green tea has a high concentration of EGCG (or epigallocatechin gallate) and its antioxidants can help burn fat, reduce the risk of stroke and prevent clotting of the arteries. In fact, just one cup per day of green tea was seen to be associated with a 5% lower risk of death due to cardiovascular disease! You can drink it hot or cold and the S’well bottle (my personal obsession!) will make sure it stays just the temperature you want it!
5. Try adding probiotics.
Did you know the human body is home to more than 10,000 microbial species and outnumber human cells by 10 to 1? In fact, they can make up to 2-6 pounds of a 200 pound adult. That’s a lot of bacteria! Using probiotics to keep these guys in balance can benefit the body in a variety of ways, including helping to lower blood pressure and lower elevated cholesterol levels, a major risk factor for coronary artery disease!
6. Shake the salt habit.
Nothing increases your blood pressure and stroke risk quite like salt. Most of us get too much in our diets each day, so try to limit your sodium intake to 2,300 mg or 1 teaspoon per day. Take the salt shaker off the table. Flavour your food with fresh or dried herbs, unsalted spices, lemon juice, garlic, onions or flavoured vinegars. Limiting your intake of processed foods and reading nutrition labels can make a huge impact on your salt intake.
7. Limit your intake of added sugars and reduce your alcohol intake.
Up to two alcoholic drinks per day for a man and one drink per day for a woman are just fine for healthy people. Sorry, saving them all for the weekend doesn’t count! High intakes of sugar and alcohol over time can increase the levels of triglycerides, a type of fat in your blood, which raises your heart disease risk.
8. Get moving.
Physical activity has a host of health benefits, but it’s especially good for improving blood pressure and maintaining a healthy weight, which further reduces stress and strain on your heart each and every day.5
9. Chill out.
Stress causes our bodies to go into “fight or flight” mode, releasing hormones that raise blood pressure and speed up your heart rate. Long-term stress has been linked to poor lifestyle choices (read: diet, alcohol, smoking) that can send your health into a tailspin. Try managing your stress by getting enough sleep each night, taking time to relax, and making “me time”. These solutions can help you stay positive and optimistic, which are tied to better health outcomes.
And laughing a little more each day may actually just be what the doctor ordered! In fact, laughter seems to have an impact on the blood vessel linings or endothelium of the heart. The endothelium has a powerful effect on the blood vessel tone and regulates blood flow, adjusts blood thickening and produces chemicals in response to things like injury and inflammation. Because of its function, it also plays an important role in the development of cardiovascular disease. Laughter appears to have the same level of impact on the endothelium as aerobic exercise or statin (a cholesterol lowering medication) use! Another great reason to add a little bit more laughter to your day!
10. Quit smoking.
Speak to your doctor – they can help set you up for success.
Dr. Becky Lee is a Naturopathic Doctor in Vaughan, Ontario. She has a special focus in supportive naturopathic cancer care, fertility and pain management. Her greatest passions in life are her two sweet daughters and helping people optimize their health. Learn more about her here.