6 Easy Tips to Get a Healthier Heart

6 Easy Tips to Get a Healthier Heart

1. Know Your Cholesterols

There are two types of cholesterol, low-density lipoprotein (LDL) – the bad kind, and high-density lipoprotein (HDL) – the good kind.

LDL has been labeled “bad” cholesterol because it is can lead to plaque, a thick, hard substance, which clogs the arteries. Plaque increases the risk of blockages, which could result in a heart attack or stroke.

HDL is “good” cholesterol because it helps to remove LDL cholesterol from the arteries, protecting you against blockages.

6 Easy Tips to Get a Healthier Heart

2. Get Educated

Know the Warning Signs:
While most people are aware of the severe chest pain that accompanies a heart attack, symptoms are often quite different between men and women. 

  • Heart Attacks in Women: Chest pain is the most common symptom, but women are also likely to experience pain in their jaw, neck, back and arms. Stomach pain is also common, with many women mistaking these types of symptoms for heartburn. Women may also experience trouble breathing, extreme fatigue, lightheadedness, nausea or a sudden cold sweat. 
  • Heart Attacks in Men: The predominant symptoms are extreme chest pain and tightness, although some men may experience a few of the symptoms more common in women (see above). 

6 Easy Tips to Get a Healthier Heart

Strokes on the other hand, present the same in both genders. If you experience any of these symptoms, then you should call an ambulance immediately: 

  • Extreme confusion and difficulty speaking or understanding speech 
  • A loss of coordination and balance, which may make it difficult to walk
  • An intense headache with no obvious cause
  • Difficulty seeing (this may only be in one eye)
  • Weakness or numbness on one side of the body, affecting your face, leg or arm 

Know Your Family History:
Some of the contributing factors to heart disease are hereditary so it’s important to know if you are more at risk genetically. Ask questions. Find out if there have been any cardiovascular cases in your family (both immediate and extended) and inform your doctor. Knowing about any pre-existing conditions in the family will help your GP to get the full picture should anything happen to you. With that said, it’s important that you check in with your GP regularly, even if you’re perfectly healthy. They’ll keep tabs on your blood pressure, cholesterol, heart rate, blood sugar and body mass index (BMI) so that you can stay in optimum health (or move towards it).

6 Easy Tips to Get a Healthier Heart

3. Eat Healthy

Your diet plays a massive role in your cholesterol levels and your overall heart health.

Eat More:

  • Healthy fats: The Greeks have hit the nail on the head with their Mediterranean diet. Substituting saturated fats for vegetable oils such as flaxseed, avocado and olive have led to a lower rate of heart disease. These healthy fats increase HDL cholesterol (the good kind) while also decreasing LDL cholesterol (the bad kind). 
  • Omega 3 fatty acids: These help to lower blood pressure, reducing the formation of blood clots. Oily fish such as sardines, salmon, trout, kahawai and anchovies are all good sources. Many of the oily fish that contain these acids also contain healthy fats. 
  • Nuts and seeds: While high in calories, nuts and seeds are full of healthy fats, which lower LDL cholesterol without affecting your HDL cholesterol. Around quarter of a cup of raw, unsalted nuts and seeds per day is recommended. 
  • Legumes, oats, chia seeds, psyllium and flaxseed: These are all excellent sources of fibre, which helps to lower LDL cholesterol. 
  • Fruit and vegetables: Adding more fruit and vegetables to your diet will increase your antioxidant levels, helping to protect your body from free-radical damage. You should be having at least two servings of fruit per day, and at least three servings of vegetables. Beetroot is especially good because it relaxes your blood vessels, improving blood flow and lowering blood pressure. 
  • Green Tea: Two cups of green tea a day will boost your antioxidant levels (without adding too much caffeine), decreasing inflammation and lowering the risk of blood clots. 

6 Easy Tips to Get a Healthier Heart

Eat Less: 

  • Saturated and trans fat: These sorts of fats increase you risk of heart disease, contribute to weight gain and raise your LDL cholesterol levels. They are found in deep fried, commercially baked or packaged foods, or solid fats like margarine. Avoid takeaways, choose leaner cuts of meat and pick low fat dairy products where possible.
  • Sodium: While most people associate sodium with salt, the biggest problem is in our processed foods – but all those extra sprinkles of salt you add to your meals don’t exactly help either. Sodium increases your blood pressure, putting an extra (unnecessary) strain on your heart. Try to reduce the amount of salt you add to your cooking and look at the labels before you make a purchase. Aim for less than 3g of sodium per 100g. 
  • Sugar: Nicknamed “sweet poison”, sugar is all over the news as the latest ingredient to steer clear of. When you consume a lot of sugar, you get spikes in your insulin levels. These spikes turn the food you’re eating into body fat, specifically triglycerides, which are one of the biggest contributors to heart disease.
  • Alcohol: Those that drink in moderation have fewer heart attacks and live longer than those that drink heavily. A little red wine every now and then is the preferred alcohol choice, because it contains high levels of antioxidants and resveratrol. 

6 Easy Tips to Get a Healthier Heart

Cooking for a Healthy Heart:

  • Add garlic: Whether fresh or dry, garlic has been shown to lower LDL cholesterol. 
  • Opt for vinaigrette and lemon juice over creamy dressings: Creamy condiments tend to be full of bad fats and sugar. 
  • Trim the fat: Animal fat is in the bad fat category, so when preparing your meat to cook, remove any fat or skin beforehand. 
  • Less is more: Use as little oil as possible when cooking and if you need it, use a healthy option such as olive oil. 
  • Steam, poach, bake, grill, boil: If there is a way to cook that doesn’t involve frying, do it. 
  • Let your roast settle: Everyone loves a Sunday roast, but they can be quite fatty. As soon as your meat is cooked, place it on a rack and let any excess fat drip out before it cools and solidifies. 
  • Let your casserole cool: As your casserole cools down, the fat will rise to the surface and harden. This will allow you to scrape it off before eating, thus reducing your meal’s fat content. 

6 Easy Tips to Get a Healthier Heart

4. Exercise

Everybody should be aiming for a minimum of 30 minutes a day doing some moderate type of cardio exercise, such as a brisk walk. This will boost HDL levels and contribute to your overall health and well-being. For those that have pre-existing heart conditions or are beginning with a very low level of fitness, it’s best to ease into an exercise regime and build up to something more physical – sudden, intensive exercise may only put strain on the heart.

6 Easy Tips to Get a Healthier Heart

5. Reduce Your Stress

Long-term stress can increase your blood pressure, eventually damaging your arteries. Find something that helps you to relax, whether it’s taking a bath, going for a run or reading a book.

6 Easy Tips to Get a Healthier Heart

6. Introduce Some Supplements

Sometimes a little extra help can be worthwhile. These supplements are great for promoting overall heart health:

  • CoQ10 and Grape Seed Extract: These are both powerful antioxidants that help maintain your cardiovascular system by preventing damage to the cells in your body.
  • Omega 3 Fatty Acids: Studies show that the EPA and DHA in fish oil and krill oil enhance overall cardiovascular health by supporting optimum triglyceride levels, circulation, blood vessel function, metabolism and heart rhythm.

With a little education and some smarter decisions, New Zealand’s cardio conundrum could see a vast improvement. Start incorporating some of the tips above into your life and get yourself on the path to a healthier heart.

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