As we can’t see our hearts, it is easy to dismiss that fact as ‘not relevant to me’.
However, if we ignore the engine in our car, sooner or later we will need to either replace it (not good!) or get it fixed. The same applies to the heart. Lifestyle habits and choices (food, exercise, stress & sleep) contribute to our heart’s health and to our overall wellbeing. So no matter how busy we are, it’s important to stop, think and care about the choices we make.
Here are a few easy tips to help you keep your heart healthy!
1. Start the day with a heart-healthy breakfast
A diet that looks after your heart is one that’s high in fibre, and in particular high in foods containing beta-glucans. These amazing ‘super ingredients’ found in carbohydrates like oats and barley remove cholesterol from the body by mopping it up in the stomach and in the intestines. In fact studies have found that eating a diet high in beta-glucans can have equal, if not more beneficial effects as cholesterol-lowering drugs. To make your oats even more heart-healthy, add a portion of blueberries - these super berries have been shown to reduce heart attack risk.
2. Stand up at your desk
A study published earlier this year in the European Heart Journal found that spending less time sitting and more time standing lowers blood sugar, cholesterol, and weight — all of which equals a reduced risk of heart disease. Simply switching two hours of sitting each day has been shown to lower blood sugar levels and cholesterol. If you’re not lucky enough to have a standing desk, try holding standing or walking meetings, working standing up in a break out area, or taking regular breaks from your desk.
3. Take a lunch break
Think lunch breaks are for wimps? Think again. Numerous studies have found that not only does taking time away from your desk increase productivity and performance in the afternoon, but it also reduces your level of the stress hormone cortisol (strongly linked to weight gain and heart disease). In addition to this, studies have found that when we eat in front of the computer (or a TV), we consume on average double the amount of calories than when having a meal with no distractions. And extra calorie intake over time leads to weight gain, increased blood sugar levels, higher cholesterol and risk of heart disease. So the next time you’re tempted to ‘work through’ think about the effect it’s having on your heart.
4. Snack on almonds
If you avoid nuts thinking they’re packed with fat and calories you could be missing out on one of the best foods for your heart. Almonds in particular are not only full of heart healthy fibre (one handful contains around 4g of fibre - about a fifth of your recommended daily intake), but they’re also high in the beneficial fats that help to boost your healthy cholesterol reading. In addition to this they’ll help to boost digestion, and help stave off hunger pangs. What’s not to like?
5. Brisk walking
If you don’t have the time for regular exercises or other sports: research has found that the same energy used for intensive walking or vigorous running, results in similar reduction in risk of high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes. Try walking to the tube station instead of taking the bus? Even if it is a short walk, it comes with health benefits and it’d make you feel very refreshed.
6. Get an early night
Of all of the reasons for getting a good night’s sleep, boosting your heart health may not be at the top of the list - but perhaps it should be. A review in the European Heart Journal looking at studies involving over 475,000 people found that short sleepers had a 48% increased risk of developing or dying from coronary heart disease and a 15% greater risk of developing or dying from stroke. But more isn’t always better - long sleepers (who averaged nine or more hours a night) had a 38% increased risk of developing or dying from CHD and a 65% increased risk of stroke. It seems the optimum for heart health is 7 - 8 hours of good quality sleep each night.
So have a check of how many of these tips you’ve done today and set yourself a goal for tomorrow to give your heart a well-deserved hug.
Written by Ruth Tongue
Healy, G, Winkler, E, Owen, N, Anuradha, S & Dunstan, D. Replacing sitting time with standing or stepping: associations with cardio-metabolic risk biomarkers. 2015 http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/eurheartj/ehv308
Cappuccio, F et al. Sleep duration predicts cariovascular outcomes: a systematic review and meta-analysis of prospective studies. European Heart Journal, June 2011; vol 32(12) pp. 1484-92