How to Keep a Healthy Heart

You hear it on TV everyday, it’s in the newspaper, magazines, even on the radio; how to keep a healthy heart. After all, heart disease is the leading killer of men and women in the United States today. (Nargunkar, 2006). But will eating a box of a certain type of cereal or taking a certain type of pain reliever really keep your heart as healthy as they say? We’re always asking what kinds of “things” promote heart health. Shouldn’t we be asking what kind of lifestyle promotes heart health? Well, here’s a guide to a lifestyle promoting heart health.

Of course, the first key to a healthy heart is a healthy regime of exercise. Yes, I said it, exercise. Sure eating right is great, and we’ll talk about that in a bit, but we by no means can underestimate the power of exercise on a person’s body. It helps to keep cholesterol levels in check, improve blood pressure and circulation, and promote weight loss, among other things. Simply exercising twenty minutes can actually help the heart get stronger, which is why the American Heart Association recommends those which heart problems to engage in moderate physical activity. (2006).

When a doctor mentions exercise often people cringe in fear of hours at the gym or hundreds of back aching sit ups. However, that simply isn’t the case. Light exercise such as walking, jogging, swimming, or biking also provides a great deal of benefit to your heart and overall health. So instead of sitting down and watching the news all morning, take a nice 20-30 walk around the block or in the park. A little exercise can go a long way in keeping your heart as healthy as can be.

Another big lifestyle factor is stress. When researching the heart and the effects one’s lifestyle can have on it, I came across a striking number of cases in which stress was a huge contributing factor to heart problems. In this day and age it is not hard to see why, with corporate mergers, pressing deadlines, weekends and late nights at work, instability in international relations, family and personal affairs, etcâÂ?¦ There are just too many things that can plague a persons mind. However, this is exactly the problem. Stress increases your blood pressure and causes your heart to work overtime, pumping and pumping away at double speed. Just like the rest of your body, your heart eventually gets tired. Although stress at this point is still being researched as a factor contributing to cardiovascular difficulties, people with heart disease and heart failure are encouraged to find a means of managing their stress and keeping stress levels low. Isn’t that reason enough to better manage our stress? Not to mention further deteriorating effects of stress on the body.

Another lifestyle choice includes the types of food we choose to eat. As we all know by now, we are what we eat in one sense or another. Thus, fatty foods cause us to gain weight not only around our mid sections, but also around the walls of our hearts. Now that’s a dangerous food choice! On the other hand, eating a healthy serving of fruits and vegetables each day promotes better overall health as well as heart health. Healthier foods are those which contain a low fat content, are not high in sodium (salt), and have a high fiber content. (A Patient’s Guide to Heart Surgery, N.d).

So what foods should you be looking to buy to promote a healthy heart? Well, first and foremost, unprocessed foods. In the Western world we have so many processed foods at our finger tips and so we hardly reach for the fresh ones. However, no matter how many heart healthy claims a processed food many make, fresh is always better. According to Hearth-Health.org “If you can’t recognize part of the original food, the item is processed or refined.” (2006). The same heart healthy website goes on to state that in processing foods 60-95% of heart healthy ingredients are lost (Vos, Eng, Sutton, 2006), making these foods simply useless and often harmful to our bodies. Thus, avoiding processed foods is essential to keeping a healthy heart, and treating a sick one. The key is fresh fruits and vegetables and unprocessed grains and rices.

Additionally, the right kinds of protein can make a huge difference in your heart’s health. Many different sources, including the British Heart Foundation encourage eating lean proteins, but more specifically oily fish regularly. “Eating oily fish regularly can help to reduce the risk of coronary heart disease and also to improve the chances of survival after a heart attack.” (Heart Health, N.d). The best fish to find the Omega-3 fish oil in are herring, pilchards, tuna (fresh) mackerel, kippers, trout, sardines, salmon, and anchovies. However, for those who aren’t a fan of eating fish, there are many companies that make Omega-3 fish oil capsules. Taking these capsules daily can be an excellent substitute for eating the aforementioned fish.

Last, but not least, try to cut out any unhealthy habits such as smoking or heavy alcohol drinking. Both habits take a huge toll on the heart as heavy drinking can weaken the heart muscle and increase blood pressure. (Heart Health, N.d). This doesn’t mean you have to cut out drinking alcohol altogether. In fact, drinking in moderation actually benefits your heart, you simply must keep it within limits. Likewise, smoking increases blood pressure causing the heart to beat faster. This alone, on top of other side effects, causes the heart to wear down rather quickly.

Making changes to your lifestyle doesn’t come easy by any means. Certainly, lifestyle changes are some of the hardest to make, but when it comes to your health isn’t it worth the work? Start off making small changes and work up by cutting small things from your diet or adding more fresh fruits and vegetables. Begin setting aside 15 minutes a day for exercise and work up from there. Don’t try to do everything at once, but the sooner you start to make changes the better you will feel. Consult your doctor before making any drastic changes, and ask what kinds of nutritional plans would be best for you. Being conscious about your heart’s health is one of the best things you can do for your body, and that means having more time to do the things you love.

References:

Nargunkar, V (2006). Ayurvedic Tips to Keep Your Heart Healthy. Retrieved August 31, 2006, from About Web site: http://healing.about.com/od/ayurvedic/ss/healthyheartips.htm

(2006, August 31). Physical Activity and a Healthy Heart. Retrieved August 31, 2006, from American Heart Association Web site: http://www.americanheart.org/presenter.jhtml?identifier=1518

(N.d). A Patient’s Guide to Heart Surgery. Retrieved August 31, 2006, from Cardiothorractic Surgery Web site: http://www.cts.usc.edu/hpg-howtokeepyourhearthealthy.html

Vos, Eng, Sutton, (2006, August 31). Nutrition, Health, and Heart Disease. Retrieved August 31, 2006, from Heart-Health.org Web site: http://www.health-heart.org/

(N.d). Heart Health. Retrieved September 1, 2006, from British Heart Foundation Web site: http://www.bhf.org.uk/hearthealth/index.asp?secID=1&secondlevel=78&thirdlevel=350&artID=398

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