The simplest way to a healthier heart lies in leading a healthier life. It might sound too good to be true, but it is known that people can work their way towards a more efficient heart by making small, steady changes in their life.
Heart disease claims many lives every year; however, that does not mean that every one must accept it as their fate. There are some crucial heart disease prevention steps that can allow a person to avoid heart problems or keep their condition under control. Here are some healthy lifestyle changes to start with:
1. Eating a heart-healthy diet
A healthy diet that is good for the heart includes foods that lower cholesterol and control blood glucose levels, amount of fat in the blood vessels and helps a person maintain a healthy weight. Some key pointers in a healthy diet include:
- Fruits, vegetables and whole grains help protect the heart as they provide the necessary fibre, vitamins and minerals, while remaining low in sodium, cholesterol and fats.
- Low-fat protein sources like lentils, bean, meat, poultry and certain types of fish also help reduce the risk of heart disease.
- The type of fats consumed in diet is crucial in determining heart health. While unsaturated (polyunsaturated and monounsaturated) fats are important for heart, saturated (red meat, dairy products) and trans fat (deep-fried fast foods, bakery goods, hydrogenated fats) must be limited or avoided.
- A healthy heart-diet also includes limiting alcohol intake. At moderate level (which is one drink a day for women and two drinks a day for men), alcohol can protect one’s heart. However, excessive intake becomes a health hazard.
2. Exercising for 30 minutes for 3-4 times a week
Regular exercise can reduce the risk of heart disease, and when combined with other lifestyle measures, it greatly promotes heart health. Physical activity keeps body weight under check and reduces the risk of developing conditions like high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes that put a strain on the heart.
Moderate intensity exercise for 30-60 minutes for three or four days a week is recommended.
However, the workout time can also be broken down into three 10-minute sessions to achieve the same health benefits. Daily activities like housekeeping, gardening, walking the dog or taking the stairs instead of the lift also add up to the required daily activity.
3. Maintaining a healthy weight
An overweight condition, especially excess weight around the mid-section, increases the risk of heart disease by increasing the chances of developing high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes. A standard indicator that is used to determine if an individual’s weight is healthy is the body mass index (BMI), which takes into account the height and weight in calculating if a person has a healthy or unhealthy percentage of body fat. A BMI over 25 is linked with high blood fat levels, high blood pressure and an increased risk to heart disease and stroke.
However, men and women who are physically fit and have a high muscle content in their bodies may show a higher BMI (as muscle weighs more than fat), without any health risks. Due to this reason, the waist circumference is also used to measure the amount of fat around the abdomen – overweight men will have a waist measurement greater than 40 inches, while overweight women will have a waist measurement greater than 35 inches.
It is important to note that even a small weight loss goes a long way in securing heart health. It is suggested that reducing weight by 5 to per cent can decrease blood cholesterol, blood pressure and the risk to diabetes.
4. Getting good quality sleep
Lack of sleep can not only leave an individual yawning all day, but adversely affect health by increasing the risk of obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes, heart attack and depression. An easy indicator of sleep deprivation is the need to hit the snooze button of the alarm clock and the struggle it takes to get out of bed. Adults getting adequate sleep can wake up feeling refreshed even without an alarm clock.
Most adults require seven to nine hours of uninterrupted sleep every night. It helps to create a sleep schedule and going to bed at the same time each day, along with keeping the bedroom a dark and quiet place.
However, some people feel tired throughout the day even after getting enough sleep. This could signal sleep apnoea, which involves blocking of airflow in the windpipe, causing temporary stoppage of breathing.
Signs of sleep apnoea include snoring loudly, waking up at night, gasping for air in sleep, waking up with a headache, dry mouth or a sore throat, and memory problems. Sleep apnoea can be treated by losing weight and using continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP).
5. Quitting smoking
Smoking or using tobacco is an important risk factor for heart disease. Here’s how:
- The chemicals in tobacco damage blood vessels and heart, causing narrowing of arteries (atherosclerosis), which can lead to heart attack.
- Carbon monoxide in cigarette smoke replaces some of the oxygen carried in the blood. This forces the heart to work harder to supply adequate oxygen to tissues, increasing heart rate and blood pressure.
- Women who smoke and take birth control pills are at a high risk of having a heart attack or stroke as the combination of the two increases the risk of blood clots.
There is no safe limit to smoking. The more a person smokes, the greater are his/her chances of heart disease. Quitting smoking, on the other hand, reduces the risk of heart disease, regardless of how much or for how long a person smoked before.
6. Other natural remedies to a healthy heart
- Maintaining good oral hygiene – Studies show that bacteria produced from periodontal disease can trigger issues in the valves of the heart and inner lining of the heart. It is, therefore, important to brush teeth daily.
- Donating blood – Excess iron in the blood can also lead to heart attack. Donating blood not only keeps iron levels in check but also maintains a healthy viscosity of blood (thick blood is a risk factor for heart disease).
- Keeping stress at bay – Stress raises blood pressure, heart rate, and the stress hormone cortisol. It is important to tune out from work, phone and stressful situations for brief periods every day.