5 Simple steps that you can take to support your heart health today
When it comes to heart health, there are plenty of simple steps and tweaks that you can make to your lifestyle to boost your cardiovascular system. Considering that your heart beats around 100,000 times in one day and more than 2.5 billion times during the average lifetime (that’s one busy heart), you’re never too young- or too old- to take care of your heart!
Step 1: Follow a heart-healthy diet
Being a nutritionist, I’m often asked about following a heart-healthy diet and what it involves, but it isn’t really just about following a diet, per se. It’s more of a roadmap that encourages eating more food that’s wholesome, nutritious and good for the heart, and at the same time, reducing the consumption of overly processed foods packed in saturated fats, which contribute to inflammation and eventually heart disease. Since trans-fats and saturated fats found in butter, ghee and animal-based foods can contribute greatly to blood cholesterol levels and increase the risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD), following a heart-focused diet that is low in these fats can prevent the build-up of plaque in your arteries, which would otherwise eventually lead to CVD.
When following a heart-healthy diet, refresh your eating habits by consuming plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables - this is a sure way to keep your heart (as well as your other vital conditions) in prime condition! Try to also include plenty of plant-based foods, such as whole grains, lentils, legumes, nuts and seeds, in your diet - whilst limiting your intake of saturated fats, trans-fats and sodium.
Step 2: Don’t forget to take your omega-3s!
Omega-3 fatty acids are a family of polyunsaturated fats made up of EPA and DHA fatty acids (the healthy anti-inflammatory kind of fats) that can help promote cardiovascular health. Both DHA and EPA contribute to the normal function of the heart by maintaining normal blood pressure and triglyceride levels in the blood. Studies have shown that if we have a consistent intake of omega-3s, it could result in a reduction of CVD by at least 10%! The best source of omega-3 is oily fish, but there are also vegetarian and vegan-friendly sources too, such as walnuts, linseeds, tofu, pumpkin seeds and edamame beans. As a population, we don’t eat as much omega-3 as we could. That's why it's important to include plenty of these foods in your diet and even adding an omega-3 supplement to your daily regime, can help you reap the benefits of this healthy fat!
Step 3: Add some Co-enzyme Q10 to your life
Coenzyme Q10 is a natural antioxidant that is present in every cell in the body. It’s specifically found in high concentrations within the cells responsible for energy production, such as the heart, brain, liver and kidneys because it helps our body cells generate energy effectively from the food we eat.
As we get older, however, ageing and stress slow down CoQ10 production and our levels of CoQ10 gradually reduce. Considering that CoQ10 is essential for the heart muscle, it’s no surprise that studies suggest that some conditions linked to the heart may be associated with lower concentrations of CoQ10.
Step 4: Include garlic in your diet
A number of studies have focused on garlic’s potential in promoting a healthy heart, and the research suggests that garlic can make platelets (the cells that are involved in blood clotting) less likely to clump together and build up on the artery walls. Garlic may also be effective in regulating blood pressure thanks to an active compound found in garlic known as allicin. This compound releases chemicals into the bloodstream that can help blood vessels to widen, thereby allowing blood to flow more freely through the heart and across the body.
Step 5: Take some time out to move your body
Sometimes it’s easy to forget that the heart is actually a muscle, and like any other muscle, exercise is exactly what’s needed to strengthen it! Exercise is also a great way to burn calories, lower blood pressure, reduce cholesterol levels, promote better blood sugar regulation, and can even help encourage the heart’s arteries to dilate more readily - the recipe for a healthy heart!
Some heart-healthy exercises include aerobics, brisk walks, jogging, swimming, yoga, climbing an incline (on the treadmill, stairs or hill) and cycling. Aim to practice these activities for 150 minutes a week to help you feel more energetic and help your heart pump blood efficiently.
Riya Lakhani ANutr is a registered nutritionist and health writer with a special interest in plant-based nutrition. She has completed a Bachelor’s and Master’s degree in Human Nutrition, and has developed a passion for writing about all things plant-based.