Cardiovascular disease is the nation’s biggest killer, and women are just as affected by this disease as men. In honour of Heart Month, here are some tips to improve your heart health:
1) Fight Free Radical Damage
Free radicals are molecules or atoms that have an unpaired electron. These unstable molecules can react with our cell membranes, DNA, and blood vessel walls, leading to inflammation, damage, an ultimately disease. Free radicals are present in our environment, from cigarette smoke, chemical fumes, heavy metals, etc. They are also a product of our diets. Processed foods, artificial food additives and preservatives, trans fats, and hydrogenated oils are all potential sources of free radicals.
Antioxidants from fruits, vegetables, and phytonutrients fight free radical damage, protecting the heart and blood vessels. Vitamins A, C, and E are some important antioxidant vitamins. Cherries, blueberries, raspberries, grapes, and tomatoes contain high levels of potent antioxidants. Carrots, sweet potatoes, and leafy greens are great sources of the antioxidant vitamins A and C. Green tea and turmeric contain powerful plant phytonutients with free radical fighting potential. Add these foods to your diet daily to help protect your heart.
2) Add Fibre to your Diet
Food should pass through the body within approximately 18 hours. Due to high intakes of processed foods, chemicals, and a lack of fresh water and fibre intake, bowel transit times for the average person are closer to 48-72 hours. Food particles, wastes, and cholesterol sitting in the large intestine for too long can be reabsorbed into the bloodstream, essentially poisoning the body with its own wastes. This can lead to an overwhelm on the organs of detoxification, and lead to stress on the whole body, including the heart and cardiovascular system.
Soluble and insoluble fibre bind toxic substances and carry them out of the body. Fibre found in legumes, whole grains, fruits, and vegetables are able to bind cholesterol, heavy metals, and other toxins and carry them out of the body. Fibre also helps to bulk up the stool and ensure that wastes are eliminated from the body. If you consume three meals each day, you should expect to have three bowel movements per day as well. Aim for 30 grams of fibre daily, from a variety of sources (fruits, vegetables, legumes, etc.). Whole grains provide more wholesome sources of fibre and nutrients than bran products alone, which consist solely of the outer husk of the grain and can be hard on the digestive system.
3) Choose Healthy Fats and Oils
The body requires healthy fats for many critical functions, including brain function, nerve transmissions, and hormonal balance. Cell membranes, including those of red blood cells, are made up of healthy fats. A lack of essential fatty acids in the diet can lead to low energy, mood swings, reduced brain function, and poor healing times, as well as add stress on the circulatory system.
High levels of saturated fats, trans fats, and hydrogenated oils are harmful to the cardiovascular system. Animal products, fried foods, and processed oils such as margarine, etc., are all sources of inflammation causing compounds and free radicals. Cholesterol in itself is not harmful to the body – it is only when cholesterol become oxidized, either by high heat (i.e. frying), processing (i.e. hydrogenation), or damaged by free radicals that it becomes dangerous, able to cause damage to the blood vessel walls.
Coconut oil and avocado oil are the best oils for cooking, as they have a very high smoke rate and will not oxidize as readily as other oils. Olive oil and flax oils are great on salads, steamed veggies, etc. Raw nuts and seeds (unroasted and unsalted) also provide good amounts of healthy fats to the diet.
4) Strengthen your Heart with Aerobic Exercise
The heart is a muscle. Aerobic exercise strengthens and tones the heart muscle and blood vessels. Exercise such as biking, walking, dancing, sports, etc., strengthens the entire cardiovascular system, and increases the flow of nutrient and oxygen rich blood to the tissues. Aim for 20-30 minutes of aerobic exercise 4 times a week.
5) Manage Stress and Ensure Adequate Sleep
Increased stress levels can lead to higher blood pressure levels, putting a strain on the heart. Relaxation technique such as meditation, guided imagery, spending tme in nature, taking a relaxing bath, etc., all help the body to unwind, enabling the flow of oxygen throughout the body. These techniques are great to apply in the morning, preparing you for the day ahead, or in the evening, to prepare your body for the deeper rest that comes with sleep.
When the body is at rest, it is able to carry vital repair functions that cannot take place when the body is active. Adequate sleep (7-8 hours per night) affects the whole body. According to our natural circadian rhythms, the best hours to sleep are between 10 pm and 6am -physical repair to the body occurs between 10:00 pm and 2:00 am, while psychological repair occurs between 2:00am and 6:00 am.
It is never too early to start taking care of your heart. Working with a Holistic Healthcare Practitioner will help you to strengthen your body by improving your nutrient status, clearing away toxins, and to develop habits for a healthy lifestyle. Regular checkups by a medical doctor are also necessary to provide the best care possible.