Take care of yourself this Valentines
February is in full swing, and it is the month of celebrating St Valentine and the season of love, it seems a perfect time to turn our attention to loving ourselves and taking care of our most valuable muscle, the heart.
When it comes to taking care of our body, we can often take for granted the health of our organs because they are inside, and we can’t see them. They just do their thing without us really noticing. And when it comes to the health of our heart, it may be something we think is only appropriate for people slightly older, because when we are young it is bound to be healthy. But it is never too early, or late, to make a conscious effort to take care of it, and in this week’s blog I will be sharing some Top Tips that you can implement to do just that; focusing on food and exercise.
On a side note, if you do have concerns for the health of your heart, please consult with your GP (or if urgent A&E) as soon as possible. The tips I will be providing are proactive suggestions, not specifically designed to treat or remedy current symptoms.
When it comes to food let’s keep it simple. As humans we are designed to eat a certain diet, eating foods that are not natural to us puts great strain on our bodies and may lead to health complications, not least stress upon the heart. So, what should you try and incorporate in your diet and what should you ideally try and avoid?
6 top foods you can enjoy which are great for heart health:
- Green tea – Catechins found in green tea have been shown to reduce the formation of plaques within arteries and therefore are great for preventing heart disease.
2. Leafy greens (spinach, kale) – these have a high nitrate content that helps with the formation of Nitric Oxide, this is a vasodilator that opens the blood vessels and aids blood flow.
- Garlic – contains powerful antioxidants that reduce the free radicals in your body. Free radicals will accelerate aging and put increased stress upon your heart.
- Dark berries – contain polyphenols that help protect the blood vessel walls and reduce free radicals therefore helping to reduce heart disease.
- Omega 3 fats – found in fish and game meat reduce inflammation in the body and help to build the cell walls, therefore, protecting against heart disease.
- Vitamin B9 – found in leafy green plant food, has been shown to protect against congenital heart defects. Essential to have during pregnancy.
As well as incorporating foods, what should we try and avoid?
- Sugar – high sugar in the blood can scar the artery walls making it easier for fatty deposits to take hold and clog the arteries.
- Caffeine – high doses of caffeine can increase the heart rate unnecessarily and put exaggerated stress upon the heart.
- Fried food – while fats are good for us, when fried, fats undergo a ‘flipping’ process that changes their chemical structure, becoming Trans-fatty acids. These are dangerous to the body and the heart.
As well as diet, exercise and movement of our body is the perfect way to ‘work-out’ our heart. The heart’s role is to act as a pump and move blood around the body as well as to the lungs, therefore when we choose to exert ourselves through movement and exercise, we demand harder work from our heart to push the blood around our body quicker. This enables the muscles that are now working to get more oxygen to function and not fatigue.
Movement and exercise is something that we should do daily to increase the potential and adaptability of our heart. If we remain sedentary, the heart never gets a chance to work harder, and then should a time come that we need to exert ourselves, be it run for the bus or dodge the traffic, it will put unexpected stress on the heart and potentially lead to injury.
To keep our heart functioning at its best here is 3 top heart and exercise tips:
- Stand up! The simple action of moving our body will increase the activity of the heart. If you are forced into a sedentary work environment or engrossed in your favourite film, be sure to stand up and sit down every 20-30 minutes.
- Move further. According to the World Health Organisation, adults should include at least 150-300 minutes a week of moderate aerobic exercise, and within this ideally incorporate some more higher intensity exercise throughout the week.
The simple act of walking can be great for the health of your heart. Try and find at least 20 – 30 minutes each day where you can do some intentional movement. If you would like to get your heart working a bit harder, how about using lamp posts as motivation? Walk from one post to another, then jog from one post to another, then sprint from one post to another and repeat. It makes it a fun and motivating way to get moving!
- Incorporate weight-based exercise. Strengthening our muscles is a great way to get our body moving and heart pumping. There are plenty of things you can do at home, you can get a few weights you don’t need a whole set or use full water bottles or tins as you start out. Do some squats or arm exercises. Lots of apps and videos online to show you how to do exercises correctly.
Not only is exercise great for our heart and body in general, but it is also great for our mind. If you are lacking a little motivation, just keep it simple and start small. You may not feel like you are doing much, but it will certainly have a positive impact over time.