How to Keep Your Heart Healthy
Reports say that heart disease is still one of Canada's biggest killers. In fact, it is the second leading cause of death. Sometimes termed coronary heart disease or ischemic heart disease, this condition refers to the formation and buildup of plaque in the heart's arteries. This plaque formation clogs the arteries and prevents the blood flow, resulting in heart failure, heart attack, or even death. So, if you want to be healthy and well, you should start by knowing how to keep your heart healthy.
Know your heart
How to maintain a healthy heart? Well, the most important thing you should do is to know your heart. By being aware and knowledgeable on how it works, what makes up your heart, and what can make it sick or at risk for certain illnesses, then it will be easier to care for it and keep it healthy. So before we dig into some heart health tips, here is an overview of the basic heart anatomy.
♦ Heart Basics
Your heart is an amazing organ. In fact, it is the hardest working organ in the human body besides the brain. Located behind the ribs and near the center of your chest, the human heart beats at about 80 to 100 beats a minute. And although it’s just about the size of your fist, it beats on an average of 42,000,000 times in a year or 115,000 times a day. So, by the time you reach 40 years old, your heart probably has beaten 1,680,000,000 times. Yes, more than 1.6 billion times. These facts just prove that the heart is indeed a hard-working organ. And, mind you, even if at rest, the heart continuously does its job to keep us alive.
♦ How Your Heart Works
The heart is not the only organ that makes up the cardiovascular system. The blood vessels are important too, as it is responsible for circulating and delivering the blood throughout the different parts of the body. Without the blood, the oxygen and nutrients it carries will not be supplied to the body tissues that need them to keep functioning.
Here is what the cardiovascular system is made up of:
The heart has four chambers, two of them are called atria (plural, atrium if singular), which are found on top of the other two. The bottom two chambers are termed ventricles (plural). These chambers receive deoxygenated blood (blood not containing oxygen) from the different parts of the body and pump out blood containing oxygen from the lungs.
The human heart has four valves, each one located in every chamber of the heart. These heart valves prevent the backflow of the blood from one chamber to another and keep the blood moving in the right direction.
The valves located between the upper and lower heart chambers are called the mitral and the tricuspid valve. The other two valves situated between the lower chambers of the heart and the blood vessels leaving the heart are termed aortic and pulmonic valves. Check the video below to see how the heart valves function.
There are two types of blood vessels, the arteries and the veins. The arteries carry the blood away from the heart to different body tissues, and the veins bring the blood back to the heart.
Yes, you read that right. An electrical system. Because without it, our hearts won’t be able to pump blood on its own. Like a pacemaker, the heart’s electrical system stimulates the contraction of the heart’s muscles.
Know what hurts your heart
There are many things that can damage the heart. In fact, a cardiologist once said that some activities could harm the heart, and people do not even think twice about doing them. So if you are worried about your heart and health, it might help that you know what these heart-damaging habits are and check to see if it is appropriate to make changes in your daily routine:
♦ Alcohol, too much alcohol
Consuming too much alcohol can increase the risk of developing high blood pressure and obesity — both conditions associated with heart disease. In fact, the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada says that excessive alcohol consumption can contribute to the development of heart disease and stroke. On their website, they even mention:
Limit alcohol intake to not more than the following:
For women - two drinks a day with a weekly maximum of 10 drinks (in most days)
For men - three drinks a day with a weekly maximum of 15 drinks (in most days)
One drink means any of the following:
A 5 oz or 142 mL wine with 12% alcohol
A bottle of regular strength beer with 5% alcohol (12 oz or 341 mL)
A 1 ½ oz or 43 mL spirits with 40% alcohol
While it is acceptable to drink a glass of wine or the occasional cocktail once or twice a week, it is important to stick to the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada’s guidelines.
♦ Inactivity and sitting all-day
Compared to those who live with an active lifestyle, those who work behind the desk and do not move enough each day are at higher risk of getting a heart attack or heart failure. One research stated that cardiovascular disease mortality and sedentary behaviours such as spending time watching TV and sitting on a car are clinically relevant.
Many health professionals even believe that sitting is the new smoking. Not only that, because too much sitting, lying down, or inactivity increases the risk of other chronic health problems, like diabetes, circulation issues, and some cancers.
♦ Not getting adequate sleep
The human heart pumps blood non-stop and works hard all day. When we sleep, on the other hand, it gets a chance to slow down and relax. So, if you are not getting adequate sleep every night, your heart and your cardiovascular system do not get the rest they need.
Besides the heart not being able to relax, long-term sleep deprivation can result in having high levels of stress hormones such as adrenaline or cortisol. Imagine your body constantly experiencing the same feeling that you have in a stressful situation.
♦ Not taking care of your dental hygiene
Dental hygiene is important. Wonder what the connection is? Well, in a study published in the Journal of Periodontal Research, the researchers found out that those who floss or interdental brushes have been linked with fewer cardiovascular issues among individuals with Coronary Heart Disease.
Other studies also show that there is a link between inflammation due to gum bacteria and inflammation linked to a potential risk for heart diseases. This study was published in the International Scholarly Research Notices, July 2013.
♦ Overindulging in salty foods
In the quest to figure out how to keep your heart healthy, here is an important tip you should not miss: Do not overindulge in salty foods. Why? Excessive sodium intake can cause fluids in the body to move out of your body tissues and go into your blood vessels. If there is too much fluid in the blood, it can result in an increase in blood pressure, which is a risk factor for many cardiovascular diseases.
Salty foods include canned goods such as canned soups, vegetables, lunch meats, chips, frozen dinners, and other foods or drinks high in sodium.
♦ Too much stress
Stressful situations provoke the body to release a hormone called adrenaline. Also called epinephrine, this hormone temporarily spurs changes in certain systems and organs of the body. It causes the heart rate and blood pressure to increase.
Over time, prolonged high levels of adrenaline in the blood can cause injury to the blood vessels and increase the risk of stroke and other health concerns.
Know how to keep your heart healthy
Now that you know what hurts your heart and what can potentially damage it, here are some healthy heart tips that you can do to decrease the risk of getting a heart problem.
♦ Add more fish on your diet
The American Heart Association recommends eating fish that contains unsaturated fats for at least two times a week. This type of fats, also termed omega-3, is thought to benefit the cardiovascular system by:
- Decreasing lipids called triglycerides, which may contribute to the thickening of the arterial wall (arteriosclerosis) and hardening of the arteries. This can lead to an increased risk for heart attack, heart disease, and stroke.
- Preventing irregular heartbeats.
- Reducing systemic inflammation which can damage the blood vessels or result in heart disease and strokes.
- Reducing the risk for blood clots
- Slightly lowering blood pressure.
Fish high in omega 3 include mackerel, pilchards, salmon, sardines, and tuna. However, if you do not eat fish, other options include canola oil, flaxseed, flaxseed oil, pumpkin seeds, soy, spinach, walnuts, and wheat germ.
♦ Avoid too much alcohol
As mentioned previously, excessive alcohol intake can affect the heart by causing heart muscle damage, high blood pressure, obesity, and irregularity in heart rhythms. But, this does not mean completely avoiding alcohol. Instead, you can just comply with the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada's guideline for appropriate alcohol consumption.
♦ Consume less sugary foods and drinks
We already know that too much sugar can lead to high blood pressure, diabetes mellitus, weight gain, and increased risk for heart disease. So, if you always have sugar cravings, try to find better alternatives to satisfy your need to eat something sweet. For instance, instead of eating cake, ice cream, or sweetened puddings, you can simply have berries, sweet potatoes, beans, and yogurt, to name a few.
♦ Cut down your salt intake
If you love eating salty foods, it is very likely that your sodium blood levels could also be high. The consequences of high sodium levels in the blood are too many, including and not limited to increased risk for stroke and heart disease. To keep your heart healthy, start by cutting down your salt intake. Cut down by avoiding sprinkling too much salt with your saltshaker, or reducing how much you use when cooking. You can also keep an eye when buying processed foods, always check food labels and be sure to pick those with the lowest sodium content.
The Government of Canada recommends a maximum daily intake of sodium of people age one and above between 1000 to 1500 mg per day. Furthermore, the tolerable upper intake level of sodium for people aged 14 and above is not more than 2300 mg.
♦ Do not stress yourself out
If you are prone to stress, you will find it hard to resist consuming more foods high in sugar or salt content. Also, your adrenaline or epinephrine will remain high. Due to too much stress, you may avoid exercising and be more likely to smoke, drink more than the recommended alcohol intake, and oversleep – all of which are connected with developing heart problems. So, get a handle on your stress and try to wind down so you can relax more.
♦ Fill up your meal plans with fruit and vegetables
For those who have hypertension or persistent high blood pressure, one solution is to eat foods with potassium. The American Heart Association (AHA) says that Potassium Can Help Control High Blood Pressure. It works by lessening the effects of sodium in the body. They say that the more potassium you consume, the more sodium you excrete through your urine. Furthermore, the AHA says that it helps ease tension in the blood vessel walls, further lowering the blood pressure. However, too much potassium in the blood can be harmful, so be sure that your potassium levels are within the recommended range.
On the other hand, sources of potassium include:
- Citrus fruits
- Fat-free or low-fat (1 percent) milk or yogurt
- Lima beans
- Melon (Cantaloupe and honeydew)
- Prunes and prune juice
Besides potassium, fruits and vegetables contain other nutrients, vitamins, and minerals that may help to keep the heart healthy.
♦ Indulge in heart healthy activities
Keep your heart healthy and strong by indulging in activities that are good for the heart. The less you spend time lying down or sitting on a couch for hours during the day, the better your chances are for having a healthy heart and healthy life. As a proof, statistics and study say that people who are not very active (those who have a sedentary lifestyle) are more likely to develop a heart attack, compared to those who indulge in activities.
You do not have to do a strenuous exercise, but at least, make it your goal to get at least a couple of minutes to 2.5 hours of mild to moderate-intensity activity. (Of course, be sure you can tolerate it and not make your condition worse). For example, you can take a brisk 30-minute walk every morning or in the afternoon.
If you are busy with work, you can check 5-minute workouts a day. If your job requires you to sit behind a desk for eight hours or so, be sure to get up, take a 3 to 5 minute walk back and forth the washroom or in your area every hour. A small tweak in your daily sitting routine can promote healthy blood flow to and from your heart and keep your arteries flexible. These simple activities can help protect you from the negative effects of a sedentary lifestyle.
♦ Keep your weight in control
If you think your weight is greater than what it should be, you will be at risk for hypertension or high blood pressure, the formation of plaques or cholesterol in the arteries, and type 2 diabetes mellitus. Try to keep your weight in the normal range by cutting back on excess caloric intake, eating less saturated fat and sugary foods, avoiding alcohol and eating more fruits and vegetables. Along with exercise, you can lose excess pounds and keep your weight in control in the long term.
♦ Limit your intake of foods high in saturated fat
Consuming foods high in saturated fat such as margarine, butter, dairy fats, fatty meats, and processed foods can increase your cholesterol levels and add extra body weight. If you cannot avoid these types of foods, you can switch to low-fat dairy foods, and choose semi-skimmed milk or lean cuts of meats. You can also grill or steam your meals instead of using cooking oils and frying.
♦ Stop smoking
While smoking is largely associated with lung diseases, smokers also face cardiovascular diseases. In fact, people who smoke are almost twice as likely to experience a heart attack than those who never smoke. How? Smoking not only damages the cells in the lungs but also the lining in the arteries and reduces the amount of oxygen transported to the heart and to the different organs in the body. Medical professionals also say that smoking increases blood pressure.
♦ Sleep adequately
As an adult, you should get seven to eight hours of sleep on average. Sleeping calms down your heart and helps it recuperate from a hard day's work.
♦ Discuss taking supplements with your health care provider
Taking supplements can help you get the nutrients you may be missing. But, deciding on whether to take one and which supplements to take is a serious matter. Be sure to speak to your health care providers about any product you are planning to take and decide together what might be best for your overall health.
Make Your Heart-Healthy Habits Stick!
Benefits from healthy habits do not show up quickly, lifestyle change is a process that is meant to be done continuously. According to a study published in 2012 by the British Journal of General Practice, it usually takes at least 66 days for a trained behaviour to make it stick and make it a habit.
Be patient and try these recommendations to make these heart-healthy changes or routines stick:
Make SMART goals and break it into manageable milestones
Make Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-Bound goals. Do not try to attempt all the changes at once because it may overwhelm you and cause you to just give up. Most people find it difficult and resort to giving up when they try to change too many routines too fast. So, make sure each milestone SMART.
Write down notes or make a list of all the changes you want to make
Not all of the changes we suggested here applies to everyone. So, make it personal, pick whatever changes in the routine apply to you and write them down in your journal. Doing this makes your milestones tangible and it will also create a guide that you can follow and monitor. Just be sure to stick to SMART objectives or goals as possible.
Do not rush in making changes or adding new routines
Be sure to gradually add new changes to your routines. When a change starts to become like a reflex or second nature, you can start moving on to your next objective. Keep doing this and while you are focused on doing one step at a time, you may not notice but you’ll reach the end of your list.
Do not give up!
Do not give up even if you experience a setback. Do not doubt what you can do. Remember that as small changes turn into lifelong habits, you will be on your way to reach your ultimate goal: keeping your heart healthy.
Reminder! Please Take Time To Read!
This article on keeping your health healthy including all of the texts, images, and links were shared for informational purposes only. It is not intended to replace a professional medical diagnosis, advice, recommendations, or treatment. You should discuss with your family doctor what changes you are planning on making so your overall health care can be integrated and managed appropriately.
For worsening signs or symptoms, contact your care provider. In cases of medical emergencies, immediately go to the nearest emergency department or call 911 as soon as possible.
Applied Science Nutrition does not recommend or suggest any specific physicians, products, tests, procedures, opinions, or other related information that may be mentioned on this website. Reliance on any of the information provided by this article and pages from the website is solely at your own discretion and risk. Furthermore, our company is not responsible and will not be held liable for any of the claims of the external website links mentioned and included in the article.