Heart health

To keep the body in good health is a duty . . . otherwise we shall not be able to keep our mind strong and clear’ – Buddha

As it was Valentine’s Day this week and February is National Heart Month in the UK, it seems right to have a post about keeping our heart healthy. Not romantically, but in a physical sense. There are plenty of tiny tweaks we can make to keep our blood pressure healthy and lower our cholesterol so I thought I’d have a look at some of them.

Look after your heart (Photo by Puwadon Sang-ngern on Pexels.com)

First of all, why are blood pressure and cholesterol important for our heart health?

Blood pressure is the force that our blood exerts on the walls of our arteries. For those of us with high blood pressure, we are putting a greater strain on our arteries and heart which can increase the risk of heart disease and stroke. I actually have low blood pressure which, whilst better for my heart, brings with it it’s own problems but more of that another time.

Cholesterol has several functions including keeping the walls of our cells flexible, helping the body absorb vitamin D, contributing to the production of various hormones and creating bile salts which aid digestion. So we all need cholesterol, but too much of the bad type (LDL) can increase the risk of heart disease, heart attacks and strokes. Higher levels of good cholesterol (HDL) can help protect against heart disease so it’s important to know the breakdown, not just the overall number.

There are 5 main ways to reduce blood pressure which are to stop smoking; exercise regularly; increase intake of fruit and vegetables, nuts and seeds; lose weight if needed; and reduce salt intake. Whilst stopping smoking is the most significant thing you can do for your health, it’s not so much of a tiny tweak. For the other four though, there are plenty of tweaks to choose from. Maybe we could introduce a bit more exercise into our daily lives, have an extra portion of vegetables with our dinner or a handful of nuts as a snack, cut out the added salt at the table, or lose a few pounds by giving up our daily cappuccino fix.

Heart (Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com)

Getting a good amount of sleep is important to stabilise blood pressure too and experts believe that regularly getting less than 5 hours sleep is linked to a significant risk of high blood pressure later on. Six to eight hours is the optimum for most of us. It’s also been proven that stress is a risk factor so how about re-considering some of the previous tiny tweaks we’ve looked at to reduce stress – gratitude journaling and decluttering for example are totally different but they are both proven ways to reduce stress in our lives. A cup of green or black tea is also a good source of antioxidants which help keep arteries healthy, as long as we don’t add sugar which does the opposite! Sounds like a good excuse to sit and relax with a book and a cup of tea to me! Oh and my favourite dark chocolate is also a great source of antioxidants and magnesium which helps lower blood pressure and avoid abnormal heart rhythms. Result!

Reducing LDL (bad) cholesterol and increasing HDL (good) cholesterol is largely about diet, although increasing activity and reducing alcohol intake also play a part. A healthy diet with lots of soluble fibre is important. Plant sterols, contained within foods such as olive oil, nuts, seeds, fruit and vegetables helps block the bad LDL levels by up to 15%. We can also buy spreads and yoghurts which are enriched with sterols. A mediterranean diet is well known to be the best heart healthy diet with plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables, oily fish, seafood, nuts and seeds, whole grains, herbs and spices. We looked in a previous post about how ‘eating the rainbow’ can help improve our diets. The more colourful fruit and veg, herbs and spices, and the less beige, stodgy stuff, the better!

Eat the rainbow (Photo by Ehioma Osih on Pexels.com)

So plenty of suggestions for tiny tweaks this week. Adding a little more exercise, improving our sleep quantity, and of course, eating a better diet. I can think of quite a few things I can do this week, can you?

Until next time xx


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