Show Some Love to your Heart! 5 Tips to Stay Heart Healthy
While 2020 didn’t turn out quite as expected, it did give us quite a few tough lessons to learn. The most important one by far, is the spotlight it put on the importance of both physical and mental health. One of the key features of the COVID 19 virus, is its tendency to affect people with co-morbidities, that is those who have pre-existing medical conditions like diabetes and heart disease, more severely , due to their reduced immunity.
According to a study published by the American College of Cardiology, myocardial injury or injury to the muscles of the heart, is present in more than a quarter of critical cases of COVID 19. In addition, the Centers for Disease control (CDC) states that underlying heart conditions could cause an increased risk of severe illness from COVID 19. The virus adds to the growing list of adverse health conditions that heart disease can bring about.
With the increased focus on improving physical well-being and immunity, here are 8 tips to stay Heart Healthy!
1. Eat Healthy to be Nutrition Wealthy
It’s tried and tested. The most effective way to maintaining great health is paying attention to the fuel provided to the body.
a. Pure Protein, Pure Power! Incorporating lean protein food sources like chicken, fish, tofu, soya bean and whole grains, is incredibly good for overall body health, showing increased immunity . Proteins are the building blocks of the body, and help in healing of tissues and muscles, preventing inflammation and providing energy. Studies have shown that an increased intake of chicken, fish and nuts are associated with significantly lower risks of cardiac disease, where 1 serving per day of nuts was associated with a 30% lower risk of heart disease, when compared with 1 serving per day of red meat.
b. Go Nuts! Seeds and nuts are superfoods, providing fiber and essential vitamins and minerals needed for the body to grow and thrive. Incorporating almonds, cashews and walnuts, as well as sunflower seeds, flax seeds or chia seeds in meals, pumps up the protein intake as well.
c. Be Salt Savvy! According to the World Health Organization, high salt consumption ( e.g. more than 5 grams or less than a teaspoon of salt per day) results in high blood pressure and increases the risk of heart disease and strokes. Taking measures to reduce consumption of table salt or cooking salt, avoiding preserved or processed foods like ready meals or frozen meats, and increasing the intake of potassium rich fruits and vegetables can decrease the risk of cardiovascular disease.
d. Vital Vegetables! Going vegan is a not just a health craze. Research shows that Plant based and vegan diets have a beneficial effect on heart health and overall immunity, although most experts advise a healthy mix of animal and plant sourced proteins.
e. Focus on the Essentials! Omega 3 fatty acids are considered essential nutrients as they cannot be produced by the human body and have to be obtained from dietary sources. They are required as immunity builders, as components of linings that protect nerve cells and have shown heart protective properties as well. Sources of Omega 3 fatty acids include fish (tuna and salmon) fish oils like cod liver oils, as well as walnuts, flax seeds and leafy vegetables.
2. Get Fit, Don’t Quit!
The heart is the most powerful muscle in the body, and like all muscles, it needs to be strengthened and conditioned to perform well. Experts from the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine recommend at least 30 mins a day, for 5 days o week of moderate aerobic exercise, to improve cardiac output as well as controlling blood sugar levels and reducing belly weight.
a. Work out on your terms! The popularity of at home work outs, online classes and virtual fitness programs has increased over the last few months with lockdowns and stay at home mandates. However, even as gyms and fitness centers open, the convenience of at home work outs, or open air walks and treks are great options to keep active.
b. Burn Up the Dance Floor! Dancing has always been an energetic but enjoyable way to get the heart rate up and blood pumping. Who doesn’t love a living room family dance party? Dress up to get in the mood or dress down and rock it out in PJs, there are no wrong moves, when dancing to stay fit.
c. Hustle to gain more muscle! Strength training or lifting weights, using resistance bands or body resistance exercises ( pull ups, squats, push ups) helps to build endurance, reduce fat and develop a leaner muscle mass. Research also shows that strength training can lower LDL or bad cholesterol levels , while increasing HDL or good cholesterol, thereby further improving heart health.
d. Jumpstart your heart! High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) involves short periods of intense aerobic activity followed by a period of recovery, usually lasting 10-30 minutes and has been found to be the most effective, time controlled way to keep active. It also helps to keep the metabolic rate higher, while reducing blood pressure, thereby benefiting heart health.
e. Progress, not Perfection! For some, the idea of a work out may seem daunting. However, small steps taken to avoid a sedentary lifestyle, can reap benefits in overall health. Taking a quick stroll around the office at break times, making use of a standing desk or taking the stairs whenever possible are simple ways to stay active, every day.
3. A Healthy Mind for a Healthy Heart
According to the Harvard Medical School, the recipe for a strong heart is the same as that for a sharp mind. Therefore, keeping our minds positively engaged , has a profound effect on physical health.
a. Exercise for the brain: Take a break from mind numbing television and screen time and pick up a crossword , try learning a musical instrument ,a new language or skill.
b. Sleep Well: Poor sleep quality has been linked with high blood pressure and increased stress levels.
c. Yoga and Meditation: Relaxation and breathing exercises improve lung capacity and improve blood flow.
d. Positivity: The body hears everything the mind says. Studies have found that negativity and mental distress, has an acute effect on physical and heart health. Researchers in the United Kingdom, evaluated psychological characteristics of 8,000 people, which revealed that those who scored high on optimism enjoyed a 30% lower risk of developing cardiac disease. Making a concerted effort to look at the positive side of things, will help to keep or heart rates and blood pressure in check.
e. Laughter Therapy… He who laughs, LASTS! Laughter therapy is an age old remedy for heart health. According to the Cleveland Clinic, laughter decreases stress hormones, reduces inflammation of arteries and increases the level of good cholesterol, all of which help to keep heart disease at bay.
4. Know Your Numbers!
a. Preventive health is the order of the day. As the old saying goes, what is not measured, cannot be improved. With the technology available, it is now possible to measure and track heart rates, blood pressure, respiratory rates, physical activity, steps taken, calories burnt and even ECGs or heart waves through wearable technology like fitness bands or smart watches.
b. Investing in periodic health check-ups with investigations for cholesterol and sugar levels also help to keep track of cardiovascular status, especially if there is known familial history of heart disease.
5. It Pays to be Prepared!
The statistics about the increased incidence of cardiovascular disease and heart attacks, is frightening. It always brings these doubts to mind… What is to be done in the case of a medical emergency? What if a medical professional is not around at the moment ? What if the hospital is too far away and help is not available?
It may be beneficial to train and acquire knowledge about lifesaving and life preserving measures that can be taken, in case of emergencies through accredited courses from the American Heart Association (AHA) and the American Safety and Health Institute , like the Basic Life Support (BLS) training programs or Emergency First Aid programs, can orient laymen on minimal support to be given to people in life threatening emergencies, to recognize early warning signs and potentially save a life.
In these unprecedented times, preparing ourselves for an uncertain future may be the best way forward. The detrimental effect of an unhealthy population on world societies and global economies is evident. Let’s learn these valuable lessons and do better… for healthy minds and healthy bodies!