Love is in the air this month but how much do you love your own heart? If you care for your body and treat it with gratitude, it will serve you well.
Unfortunately the reality is many people take their health for granted and only start caring for their body's after a health scare. Statistics for premature death from heart disease make frightening reading. Data suggests there are 255 deaths per 100,000 of the population linked to cardiovascular disease. Not to mention those who do recover may well live a long, but poor quality life unable to enjoy optimal wellness.
There is so much written about heart health and what we should or should not do it becomes very confusing. In this article I hope to give you some key information and tools to help you maintain a healthy heart.
Your heart is a muscle which sits in the upper left hand side of your chest. Its about the size of a clenched fist and its main role is to pump blood which contains oxygen and nutrients to all parts of the body. It does this via tubes called arteries. It also returns blood that has been to the body organs via veins.
As with all parts of this amazing machine called your human body optimal performance of the heart muscle is affected by the fuel it receives and the maintenance it is given.
Just like any machine, if neglected, and if not given optimal fuel, performance will suffer. Foundations of heart disease are laid down over many years. Various clinical studies have concluded that the key components of maintaining heart health are:
Unfortunately, when the heart muscle and the arteries and veins start to degenerate. Human health really does suffer. Poor cardiovascular health has an impact on both quality and quantity of life. In the western world many people live a long life of very poor quality and often this is due to poor heart health (as well as other lifestyle diseased which are not discussed here.)
Being over fed and under nourished is one way to ensure that your heart health and other aspects of your wellbeing suffer.
So, what can we do to help support the optimal performance of our hearts and to keep them pumping blood through our arteries enabling us to live full and active lives?
Just like any muscle of the body in order to help make it stronger the heart muscle needs to be worked. The best way to increase cardiovascular strength is to take part in exercise that increases your heart rate on a regular basis. For many people the belief that you have to wear the latest top of the range fitness gear and use high tech equipment to do this puts them off. Its totally untrue. A good 20 minute walk regularly can increase your heart rate to maintain its fitness.
Obviously of you have never engaged in cardiovascular exercise before, check with your GP that you are well enough to do so. But start slowly and build up gradually.
What is your Maximum Heart rate?
In order to improve or maintain heart health, just like any other muscle it needs to be worked. When you exercise are you actually working your heart and helping it improve its fitness?
Use the calculation below to find out how to calculate your maximum heart rate.
Maximum heart rate calculation:
220- Age = Your maximum HR This is the generally accepted calculation but there is a margin of error of about +/-10 beats. Plus if you are over 40 the calculation has been shown to be more accurate to use.
206- age - implying that anyone over 40 is unfit!!
Once you have this figure this gives a guide as to the maximum beats per minute at 100%.
To improve cardiovascular fitness you need to work your heart at 70-80 % of maximum regularly.
An adult of 56 Max HR= 153bpm
Brisk walking especially up slight inclines can do this as can vigorous gardening and housework- I find mopping is like a full all over body workout especially if done mindfully!
I also love running – especially with my little dog away from the road (Too much pollution) This is Murphy and me after a 10 K run in 2021- He is 16 this year!
Swimming, if done meaningfully and powerfully rather than just bobbing about in the pool having a chat is also a good way to increase cardiovascular fitness.
Then there are those who love to go to the gym. Spinning and HIIT training are excellent. But Don’t just do it do it right!!! Make sure your form and alignment are spot on to ensure good muscle engagement and prevent injury. Don’t just throw yourself around to loud music. I never play music when I teach classes as I believe we should be mindful on what our body’s are doing rather than on the beat! Plus having qualified to teach fitness and yoga to those with disabilities, people with hearing impairment often find loud music very distracting .
HIIT -High Intensity Interval training - What it is? 20 to 90 seconds of very hard work followed by a short rest. Evidence suggests it improves cardiovascular performance, reduces belly fat and reduces insulin resistance. ( more about that in another blog)
However, you can not out exercise a bad diet and so as well as good regular cardiovascular exercise you need to ensure you are providing this heart of yours with some excellent nutrition.
Optimal Nutrition for heart Health
Many studies now show that omega 3 oils are cardioprotective.
Oily fish – salmon, herring, mackerel, sardines and vegetable sources such as flax seeds, and nuts are all excellent to support heart health.
I also recommend Taking a good omega 3 supplement
As someone who does not eat fish I get my omega 3 oils from seeds- flax seed as well at taking a supplement.
These have been shown to help reduce atherosclerosis- hardening of the arteries. A substance called homocysteine has been shown to be raised in those at risk of heart attack and stroke. A good balance of B vitamins have been shown to support healthy homocysteine levels.
B vitamins can be found in whole grains, pulses such as black beans and soy beans, chick peas, nuts, seeds, meat, avocado, leafy green vegetables. However as they are easily destroyed opting to take a daily supplement may be beneficial for many people.
Vitamins A,C, E as well as selenium and Zinc
Are the key antioxidants. These have been linked with cardio protection by maintaining smooth artery walls and reduce clotting.
Brazil nuts are a great source of selenium- just 2 or 3 a day will give a really good amount of selenium.
Vitamin A & C are found in high amounts if red yellow and orange foods such as peppers, carrots, beetroot, citrus fruits- lemons, oranges, grapefruit.
Vitamin E is found in plant oils and wholegrain foods.
Cholesterol is a natural substance made by the body. It is a precursor of many hormones and so is ESSENTIAL for life. There are beneficial cholesterols and harmful cholesterols and this article is not the place to discuss this in detail. However, a mainly plant-based diet will provide abundant good cholesterol for the body. Eating a diet that is full of a rainbow of colours will really help. Reducing the amount of highly processed foods and ready meals such as take away , pies, sausage rolls, meals that you just pop into a microwave and ping they are done, all contribute to increasing the amount of saturated fats and trans fats which in turn are converted to the wrong sort of cholesterol in the body.
Garlic- as well as keeping vampires away has many cardio protective effects. It contains allicin among many other active compounds which has antioxidant properties and has been shown to be cardioprotective by helping support a healthy cholesterol.
A mineral that has so many uses in the human body it deserves its own article (watch this space!) Here again a highly processed diet will be potentially lacking in magnesium. There is some evidence to suggest that heart attack victims have a lower magnesium. A diet full of dark green leafy vegetables will provide some magnesium however, often I recommend supplementation to many of my clients as the role this mineral plays in all metabolic processes is vast.
Has also been shown to help support a healthy cardiovascular system. Losing weight is easy - its maintaining the lost weight that many of my clients find a challenge. Diets contribute to the yo yo weight gain!! A complete mindset change and behaviour change is needed to support long term health and vitality.
Maintaining a healthy weight reduces the pressure on your heart (as well as other organs and joints) Often issues with overweight lead to hip, knee and ankle issues, fallen arches., pain and inflammation. Plus a healthy weight reduces the work that your pancreas has to do to maintain a good blood sugar balance.
Moving more, cutting out highly processed foods, looking at the quantity as well as the quality of food that you eat and ensuring you are well nourished rather than going on another diet will give your body what it requires to support a health heart.
I work with many clients who have spent years yo yo dieting, they know every calorie value of every food item, they discuss about being "good" or "bad" in regards to the food they have eaten. Working with me, I NEVER put anyone on a calorie restrictive diet. Instead I look at treating the underlying cause and educating my clients about their amazing body's and how the food at our disposal can enhance both quality and quantity of life.
If you would like to discuss how I can help you achieve optimal wellness using food and nutrition, book a discovery call with me now.