Why Maintaining A Healthy Heart Is Important
Your heart is a palm-sized, hard working, vitally important organ. It is essential that you take care of your heart, no matter your age.
In 2019, the World Health Organisation reported that ischaemic heart disease was the leading cause of death worldwide. It's a non-communicable disease, which means it's a consequence of certain lifestyle choices such as poor diet, smoking and sedentary behaviour. It makes sense, therefore, that you should do what you can to maintain a healthy cardiovascular system and protect your heart.
Did you know that your heart forms after just a few weeks of gestation in the womb?
Fortunately, there are some vital things you can do to make sure your heart is in great shape and functioning optimally:
Exercise is great for the health of your heart. It helps to keep your heart muscle strong and can help reduce your risk of developing heart disease. It can also help to lower your blood pressure and facilitates healthy cholesterol metabolism as your fitness improves. Exercise is also a great way to reduce stress, which is another important factor in heart health.
There are many different ways that you can exercise. Ideally, you want to find something you enjoy so the chances are higher that you’ll stick with it. You don’t have to join a gym or go for a run every day, but even moderate exercise such as brisk walking can make a difference to your heart.
If you're a working mother, you know that fitting exercise in can be a huge challenge. However, even a small amount of mindful movement each day will do wonders for you and your heart. Just aim to get your heart rate up for at least 30 minutes on most days of the week.
Eat a Healthy Diet
Eating a healthy diet is also important for your heart health. Unequivocally, the Mediterranean diet is the best diet and lifestyle approach for optimal heart health. So, it’s a good starting point if you find you want a diet overhaul, or have a familial tendency for heart disease.
Generally, you should focus on eating plenty of fruits and vegetables for their heart-protective polyphenols. Eating whole grains quality proteins and of course, eating healthy fats is the way to go as well. You should also limit your intake of processed and trans fats, as well as added sodium. Including bountiful sources of magnesium is also a great way to look after your adrenal system, stress responses, blood pressure and overall cardiovascular system.
Some heart-healthy foods to consider include:
- wild caught salmon
- spirulina and algae
- fruits and vegetables
- whole grains
- dairy products
- lean proteins, poultry and organic meat
- olive oil, avocado, nuts and seeds
Eating foods that have key nutrients for heart health is a great way to support your body and maintain a healthy cardiovascular system. Focusing on foods that confer anti-inflammatory benefits that have good evidence for their cardioprotective effects is the name of the game.
Some of the best heart-healthy nutrients to include in your diet are:
- Omega-3 fatty acids: These fatty acids are found in oily fish such as salmon, mackerel, sardines and herring and can help reduce arterial inflammation.
- Antioxidants: These nutrients are found widely in green tea, tomatoes, berries, coffee and leafy greens. They scavenge harmful toxins and byproducts that can damage the heart.
- Fibre: A high-fibre diet can help reduce bad cholesterol levels and heart disease risk. Good sources of fibre include whole grains, fruits, and vegetables.
- Unsaturated fats: These heart-healthy fats can help reduce inflammation and bad cholesterol levels. Good sources of unsaturated fats include olive oil, avocados, and nuts.
Why is Omega-3 so good for your heart?
You might have heard it a thousand times. But just why is omega-3 such a protective nutrient for the heart and blood vessels, among other body systems?
Research published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition shows that increasing your daily omega-3 consumption to 2.5 grams per day has beneficial effects on the heart. This amount, which likely is derived from omega-3 supplementation, is an optimal adult intake to promote a healthy heart and reduce the risk of heart disease.
Dozens and dozens of scientific articles have been published on this topic over many recent decades. A meta-analysis published in 2021 showed that the overall risk of death from major diseases were significantly reduced with omega-3 consumption. In other words, omega-3 consumption can help prevent a series of inflammatory and age-related conditions, including but not limited to Alzheimer’s disease, obesity and cancer.
Seafood appears to have the highest quantity per gram of omega-3. Therefore, you should ideally start here when you want to up your omega-3 to promote great heart health.
That said, walnuts, chia seeds, almonds, cashews and peanuts are some great sources of ALA omega-3 fats. ALA or alpha-linolenic acid can be converted into EPA or DHA, which is the bioactive form of omega-3 in the body.
Eating a handful of nuts every day can help reduce your risk of heart disease. Nuts are also a good source of fibre, vitamins, and minerals. All of these nutrients are essential for maintaining a healthy heart.
In summary, eating a healthy diet full of cardioprotective foods can help you maintain a healthy weight, lower your cholesterol levels, and reduce your risk of heart disease.
Maintain a healthy weight
Keeping a healthy weight is one of the most well known modifiable risk factors for heart disease outcomes. In essence, being overweight requires more blood flow and oxygen to your body tissues. When this happens, your body will make more blood vessels (this is known as angiogenesis) enabling blood to be sufficiently pumped to your peripheral tissues.
Obviously this is important because you want blood and nutrients to get to every part of the body. However, this means your heart has to work harder. This can lead to hypertrophy of the heart muscle and can cause mechanical stress to the delicate valves and vessels along the way. Eventually, damage to these vascular structures can be really bad for your heart health in the long run.
Being overweight comes with a number of health risks, as most people now know. These include the development of insulin sensitivity, diabetes, liver disease, dementia and of course, and increase risk of stroke and heart attack. So it's easy to see that maintaining a healthy weight is key to reducing your risk of heart disease.
Monitor your blood pressure
High blood pressure (hypertension) is one of the key markers for problems related to heart function. But here's the kicker - high blood pressure is a symptom and should be viewed as such. What I mean by this, is that you need to investigate and address the reason why you have high blood pressure in the first place.
For some people, it can be as simple as dehydration that leads to having high blood pressure. Being dehydrated puts unnecessary pressure on the heart muscle as it pumps thicker blood throughout the body, simply because you're not drinking enough water during the day.
Hypertension can be a side effect of various medications, a symptom of underlying kidney disease and of course it's a by-product of obesity and long-term smoking. It's easy to have your blood pressure checked at your GP, or even at some pharmacies. Either way, maintaining a healthy blood pressure and really knowing what drives your blood pressure levels in the first instance is a crucial part of knowing your body, staying well and keeping your heart healthy.
Other lifestyle factors to help a healthy heart
- Don't smoke. Smoking is a major risk factor for heart disease. If you smoke, quitting is one of the best things you can do for your heart health - hands down.
- Limit your sodium intake. Watch the added sodium in your diet (namely from processed, packaged foods). This can interfere with your kidney function, contribute to dehydration and in turn affect your blood pressure.
- Reduce stress. Identify the major sources of stress in your life and actively find ways to eradicate or reduce them. Not all sources of stress are in your control, so a more practical solution is to incorporate stress-management tools (exercise, meditation, yoga, journaling).
There’s plenty of ways to look after your heart, as it nourishes your brain and body each day. Exercise, eating fresh fruits and vegetables, including omega-3 foods and maintaining a healthy weight are some modifiable ways you can achieve great heart health. Addressing stress and keeping an eye on your blood pressure are also good ideas when it comes to keeping your heart healthy.
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Harris, W. S., & Von Schacky, C. (2004). The Omega-3 Index: a new risk factor for death from coronary heart disease?. Preventive medicine, 39(1), 212–220. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ypmed.2004.02.030
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Oregon State University, Linus Pauling Institute, Micronutrient Information Centre, Other Nutrients, Essential Fatty Acids, https://lpi.oregonstate.edu/mic/other-nutrients/essential-fatty-acids, viewed 25 October 2022
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