Unlike The Doctor, you only have one heart and because it carries you through life and has to work hard, you really should look after it. Did you know it beats more than 10,000 times a day? And did you also know that heart disease kills more young women than breast cancer? Now you’re more interested in ways to strengthen your heart – right?
Too much saturated fat intake can lead to high cholesterol. You can reduce your intake by making small changes to your diet: swap full-fat milk and yogurt for skimmed and reduced fat varieties; steam and grill food instead of frying everything; choose lean poultry meats and fish over red meat. Use olive oil and other unsaturated fats whenever possible.
Since food manufacturers are quite sneaky in the way they add salt to practically every processed food (and in some cases drink) we consume, we have to be more watchful than ever. You should not have more than 1.5g of salt per 100g, which is considered a high intake. Stick to 6g maximum per day, so you don't end up developing high blood pressure. Check nutrition labels on food carefully. Even your morning can cereal contain salt! Instead of giving in to your salt shaker addiction, use herbs, freshly ground black pepper, garlic, spices or lime and lemon juice to add flavor to your meals.
Eating too much sugar increases the risk of a heart attack, even if you're not obese or overweight and do regular exercise. You don't have to do without sugar in your diet completely. Tracy Parker, British Heart Foundation's Heart Health Dietician, recommends cutting down on added sugars to start you off on the sugar-less path. "Replace sugary drinks with water or sugar-free versions, and instead of biscuits, try snacking on unsalted nuts or plain popcorn," she explains. You could also eat more fruit...
Working up a sweat with regular exercise will help your heart to become more efficient at pumping blood around your body. Exercise also keeps your blood pressure at the right level. The United Kingdom's National Health Service organization recommends everybody do at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise plus two strength workouts each week to make it really count towards a healthy heart. Moderate aerobic activities include hiking and fast walking, swimming and cycling; nothing the ordinary, non-sporty person couldn't manage in a week. Run up and down the stairs, run for the bus, walk your dog around the park … there, moderate exercise accomplished. Hoisting your kids up and down the swing in the playground also counts towards strength workouts.
Heart disease and stress are comrades-in-arms. Regular high levels of the stress hormone cortisol can lead to high blood pressure, even damage the arterial linings, which makes it harder for blood to deliver nutrients to our organs. Look around for a hobby that will help you relax, such as coloring books for example, knitting or painting watercolors. You could also download apps which feature games and tips that allow you to cope better with stressful situations. There are also breathing techniques that help you cope with stress better. Go for regular walks - even a 5 minute turn around the block in fresh air will do you good and relax you, if you have a stressful job or home life.
While the occasional glass of wine with a meal doesn't hurt a fly, regular drinking and booze binges cause huge amount of damage to our bodies. Moderate alcohol intake prevents you developing abnormal heart rhythm, high blood pressure and saves you from a stroke. But overindulging can cause all sorts of damage including liver disease. Monitor your alcohol intake because it soon adds up, especially during the Holidays. Stick to wine, the occasional glass of red wine can benefit your heart.
Smokers are nearly twice as likely to suffer a heart attack than people who do not smoke, which is why giving up smoking (or not starting) is the single best thing you can do to improve the health of your heart. Heart disease is preventable, remember? So quit smoking for good! Suck your thumb if you have to, but give up your bad habit without delay.
Check your family history - if cardiovascular disease runs in your family's genes, you should inform your doctor without delay so they can assess and monitor your blood pressure and cholesterol levels regularly.
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