The heart is one of the most essential organs of the body, one which beats continuously to maintain blood circulation, carrying oxygen, hormones to various parts of the body, while whisking away toxins and waste products. It beats about 2.5 billion times during an average life time.
The heart’s health can be assessed by taking pulse readings (60 to 90 per minute) and blood pressure readings (110/ 70 is considered the normal).
The constant use causes wear and tear of the heart muscle, leading to heart disease. Other factors are atherosclerosis (accumulation of cholesterol in the blood vessels), age, unhealthy life style habits such as consuming fatty foods and lack of exercise. It could also be genetic.
Although familial disposition is something you have to live with, there are certain lifestyle changes that are in your control. The earlier you start, the better it is for your heart.
Let’s take a look at some of these changes:
Exercise is one of the most efficient ways of controlling your cholesterol, in turn maintaining normal blood pressure readings, . Doctors and experts recommend 30 minutes of moderate exercise, 5 times a week. Or a 30 minute brisk walk, 5 times a week.
STRETCHING THE MUSCLES
If you find it difficult to exercise, at least put your body through a good stretching regime. Though not as effective as vigorous exercise, it is said to improve blood circulation to the blood vessels, thus reducing damage to vessel walls and also reducing cardiac damage.
HOT WATER BATHS
Who doesn’t like indulging in a hot bath?? Not only is it good for the body and mind, it is beneficial for the heart too…gives it an extra boost! It dilates the blood vessels, lowering the blood pressure and reducing damage to heart. Also, it relaxes you and reduces stress, which is important for heart health.
Researchers have found that people indulging in a hot bath almost every day are at a 28% reduced risk of cardiac events than those who bathe twice or thrice a week.
LEARN TAI CHI
Tai Chi- an ancient Chinese art of slow and meditative movements helps you to ease your stress, in turn lowering blood pressure. A study of over 200 people having hypertension observed that people practicing Tai Chi for 3 months or more showed markedly lower hypertension than those who didn’t.
Indulge in activities that help you to reduce your stress levels- take a walk, meditate, read a book.
Food plays a large role in our lives- and our health too. A wholesome diet, with fresh fruits, high fiber and nuts, does wonders for our health. There are, in addition, certain foods that are very good for the heart.
Some of them are as follows:
1 . BERRIES
Berries- blueberries, strawberries, raspberries– are known for their high levels of vitamin C, flavonoids and antioxidants. They also reduce blood pressure and LDL (bad cholesterol).These makes them very heart friendly. They make a good low calorie dessert.
Red grapes are a good replacement for someone who does not like berries.
Seeds (chia, pumpkin, flax) are very rich in omega 3 fatty acids and fiber. Pumpkin seeds, in particular, have heart-healthy magnesium (a quarter cup contains 42 percent of the RDA of the mineral).
Studies have shown that including seeds in your diet can lower blood pressure and cholesterol, leading to a healthier heart.
Walnuts are a great source of fiber, copper and magnesium.
Studies have shown that having a few walnuts everyday helps lower LDH, cholesterol and hypertension.
All nuts, in moderation, are good for the heart. Almonds, for example, are very nutria dense. They also help in increasing levels of HDL (good cholesterol).
Being rich in calories, nuts should always be had in moderation. Experts advise having about a fistful of mixed nuts daily.
Including a variety of veggies in your diet is always a good practice.
Green, leafy vegetables like spinach and kale are known for their high content of fiber and antioxidants. They also have a high content of Vit K, which helps in blood clotting. Studies show that increasing your intake of leafy veggies can lower cardiac risk.
Broccoli and Brussel sprouts are not only rich in flavonoids and carotenoids, they are also a good source of low calorie fiber; you can safely have large quantities of these veggies without feeling guilty!
Beet is another vegetable which is a friend of the heart…it has a high level of nitrates, keeping the blood vessels healthy and dilated. Experts say a glass of beet juice daily helps control hypertension and cholesterol.
Garlic is another healthy vegetable you should include in your diet. Rich in allicin, it helps lower blood pressure as well as cholesterol.
Any vegetable in shades of red, orange or yellow is said to be rich in flavonoids and carotenoids, making them good options for a healthy heart.
Tomatoes are a fruit worthy of a mention-loaded with lycopene (a powerful antioxidant); they lower cholesterol, raise levels of HDL (good cholesterol) and prevent oxidative damage to the blood vessels.
Avocado is an excellent source of potassium, a mineral necessary for a healthy heart. It also contains monounsaturated fats, which reduce both cholesterol and heart disease.
Chilly/ Pepper: Not only do they add a kick to your meals; they are amazingly good for your heart too. Rich in Capsaicin, they have anti-inflammatory properties as well as blood glucose regulating effects. Studies show that people consuming chillies have a 28% lower risk of heart disease.
Though Red and yellow bell peppers aren’t as effective, they too are a good source of Vitamin C.
6. FATTY FISH
Oily fish, such as salmon, is a goldmine of omega 3 fatty acids, which protect the heart from damage. Studies show that people having fish thrice a week have decreased levels of diastolic pressure. It also protects from stroke and coronary diseases.
Other fish, like sardines, mackerel are quite healthy for you too. If not a fish eater, you could try fish oil. However, it is not as effective and nutritious as fresh fish.
A rich source of high fiber, this superfood reduces the absorption of cholesterol. It also improves gut health. A good source of protein, it helps in maintaining weight too.
Whole grains, like quinoa, brown rice and buckwheat all contribute to a healthier heart. They are known to reduce cholesterol and LDL levels, thus reducing risk of cardiac disease as well as stroke.
8. GARBANZO BEANS
Beans are very rich in fiber as well as plant based protein, making them heart friendly food. Not only do they help lower cholesterol levels, they help in regulation of your blood glucose levels too. Besides, they contain resistant starch, which contributes to good gut health.
All beans, be it pinto, red or kidney beans, are good for health. They have been known to reduce triglyceride levels. Caution: If having canned beans, do wash them, as their salt content tends to be high. Else, dried beans are a good choice.
9. THE MEDITERRANIAN DIET
Who hasn’t heard of the benefits of a Mediterranean diet? Olives and olive oil, an important component of this diet, is packed with anti-oxidants and mono unsaturated fats, which protect the heart from disease. Studies found that patients suffering from cardiac diseases, who subsequently switched to olive oil, showed marked improvement in their health. It may also help people live longer!
Pecan oil is also a good choice of oils, rich in antioxidants. However, try avoiding coconut oil-it is rich in fats.
Studies have found that consuming tofu, rich in isoflavone, can do wonders for your heart. A good source of plant protein, it can replace meat in your diet. It is also contains phyto sterols, which help control cholesterol in our body.
11. DARK CHOCOLATE
What a relief it is to know that you can now have that piece of chocolate, completely guilt free! Rich in flavonoids, it reduced the risk of cardiac disease. It has also been associated with reduced chances of plaque formation in arteries.
It is never too late to start living a healthy life, and the heart is a very important part of it. So, exercise, eat well and make the right lifestyle choices.