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Heart Health

by Ben Norton
October 28th 2021

Heart Health

Heart disease is one of the biggest killers in the UK but it’s often preventable.

 

What factors impact heart health?

Some of the factors that can affect the health of your heart include:

 

Cholesterol

High levels of LDL cholesterol and low levels of HDL cholesterol increase the risk of heart disease.

 

Plaque deposits

If cholesterol builds up in artery walls and forms hardened plaque deposits, the arteries can become stiffer and narrower. Eventually, this can cause blockages. There is also the risk of blood clots where plaque deposits have formed, which increases the potential for stroke and heart attack.

 

Inflammation

Inflammation is considered to be a risk factor for heart disease, although experts are not entirely sure what the exact connection is.

 

How to Protect Your Heart

Lifestyle can have a huge impact on your heart. Through nutrition and lifestyle, there’s a lot you can do to keep your heart healthy:

 

Load up on fruits and vegetables 

Fruits and vegetables are a great source of potassium, which can help reduce blood pressure. They also boost your fibre intake. A lot of us don’t eat enough fibre and this can potentially impact heart health. Eating plenty of fibre is linked to lower cholesterol levels, especially soluble fibre. Sweet potato, aubergine, mango, and citrus fruits all fall into this category.

When cooking vegetables, it’s usually better to bake, grill, steam, or boil them rather than fry. This is also true for meat and fish. If you want to enhance the flavour, try adding herbs and spices instead of salt or cheese. As well as cutting your salt and fat intake, you’ll also get extra nutrition and health benefits from the herbs and spices.

 

Stock up on omega 3s

Omega 3 fatty acids are a crucial nutrient for protecting your heart.  They’re highly anti-inflammatory and have the potential to reduce inflammation in the arteries to help keep your heart healthy.

Oily fish are rich in anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids.  Eating this twice a week is a great move for heart health.

Another smart option is to load up on nuts and seeds instead, especially walnuts, flaxseed, and pumpkin seeds. Nuts in general can help keep cholesterol levels stable. Don’t go crazy with the nuts though. They’re also fairly high in fat.

 

Cut back on salt and sugar

Salt is well known for raising blood pressure and can make you more likely to get heart disease or suffer a stroke.

Sugar is bad news too and not just from a blood sugar perspective. The biggest problem is the potential for weight gain, which makes you more likely to develop heart disease. High levels of inflammation and LDL cholesterol, increased blood pressure and high triglycerides are also factors. Definitely time to cut back on the sweet stuff to protect your heart health!

 

Exercise regularly

Regular exercise is one of the best things you can do for your heart health. According to studies, you’re more likely to have a heart attack if you’re physically inactive.

Aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per week. If this sounds daunting, you can split this across the week to make it easier to fit into your life.

 

Manage stress levels

High stress levels can be bad news for your heart.

One theory is that stress increases inflammation in the body.

Small-scale studies have suggested that stress can activate a part of the brain called the amygdala, which may then tell the bone marrow to produce more white blood cells. This leads to more inflammation, especially in the arteries.

 

So what can you do to stop stress from affecting your heart health?

According to studies, meditating regularly is one of the best things you can do.

Meditation helps manage stress and lower blood pressure. Even people with existing heart disease have been shown in studies to benefit from doing 15-20 minutes of meditation every day.

Chronic stress can also increase the chances that you’ll engage in unhealthy coping mechanisms such as smoking, drinking alcohol, and doing little to no exercise. These are all things that can harm your heart health, on top of the stress that’s already being experienced.

 

Prioritise social interaction

Loneliness is a major culprit for premature death, especially when it comes to your heart. It can lead to hardened arteries, high blood pressure, and ultimately, a bigger risk of heart disease. It can also increase cortisol levels, which can impact circulation and means the heart has to pump harder.

Connecting with friends and family as often as possible, reconnecting with people you’ve lost touch with, and getting involved in new activities can all help to reduce the health effects of social isolation.

by Ben Norton
FoodFit Consultant

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