Published June 5, 2020
Taking care of the heart is one of the fundamentals of good health. Heart disease remains the biggest killer in the UK, accounting for more untimely deaths than cancer. Thankfully, awareness of the importance of heart health is growing – and yielding results.
All the same, we owe it to ourselves – and our hardworking health service – to remain vigilant around maintaining heart health. The NHS recommends a minimum of 150 minutes of moderately intensive cardio exercise each week. This time can be halved if the workout regime is upgraded to vigorous.
Achieving these aims can be challenging, though – especially right now. Due to global circumstances, the gym is inaccessible and working up a sweat on the street through jogging is frowned upon. Thankfully, we can still show support to our heart from home.
Aerobic exercise is pivotal. You will not need expensive equipment for this, either. All you require is appropriately loose-fitting clothing, an internet connection and the space to move. You will find a variety of free aerobic workouts online, especially on video upload platforms such as YouTube.
If you partake in around thirty minutes of aerobics per day, you will lower your blood pressure. Your heart rate will slow once the initial cardiac spike has passed. This means that a little short-term effort will have substantial long-term gains.
Resistance-based exercise is also great for the heart. Traditionally, this would involve lifting weights in the gym. This may not be an option at home unless you are lucky enough to have a private set-up. You do not necessarily need dumbbells, though.
Push-ups and sit-ups are great examples of resistance exercise that can be done from anywhere. Partaking in these exercises for around thirty minutes twice a week will reduce body fat and improve your body’s levels of high-density lipoproteins. In layman’s terms, you will be raising the levels of ‘good cholesterol’, which is the key to staving off heart disease.
Naturally, however, workouts are not the only way to maintain a healthy heart. The fuel that you provide your body plays just as big a role – especially if you are not moving as much as you would like. This means that you should consider your diet, adjusting if necessary.
Fibre is at the core of regulating blood pressure. This means that you should look to switch any white grains for a wholemeal alternative. Bread is the obvious first step, but do not step there. If cooking with rice, use brown rice. This contains more than three times more fibre than white or basmati rice. Wholemeal pasta should also make its way onto your plate. Just consume these carbohydrate-heavy ingredients in small portions.
Whole grains such as oats, barley, rye and buckwheat will benefit your heart health. Studies show that whole grains can play a significant part in decreasing the risk of heart disease – as much as 22%. Refined grains should always be superceded by a whole grain addition to your diet.
Fat is also something to take under advisement. Fats come in many forms, and not all are to be avoided. Monounsaturated or polyunsaturated fatty acids are great for the human body in moderation, as are Omega-3 and Omega-6 fats.
However, trans fats are a huge red flag to the heart. Processed foods are typically high in trans fats, which are made up of partially hydrogenated oils. These ingredients are used to replace the likes of lard to provide taste, which has long since been declared a health disaster. Saturated fats are also dangerous when consumed to excess. Do not be fooled by low fat products, either. These products will be filled with sugar to appeal to the palate in lieu of fat, which will not help.
Dangerous fats will raise the level of low-density lipoproteins, or, “bad cholesterol” in your blood. Cholesterol restricts blood flow by building walls in the arteries. This leads to the arteries narrowing, preventing blood from reaching the heart. This, in turn, leads to heart disease. If you consume salt, you are taking further risks. The sodium content of table salt raises blood pressure. If that blood cannot reach the heart, the consequences can be potentially dangerous to any human being.
To maintain a healthy heart through diet, eliminate ready meals and other processed foods. Cut down on red meat, too. Switch this for fresh fish where possible, or lean ‘white’ meat such as turkey or chicken. Fish should come with scales, not breadcrumbs or greasy batter! If half your plate is made up of vegetables, you snack on fruit, drink plenty of water and cut down on salt, you are well on your way to a healthy heart. Couple this approach with exercise and you will be fighting fit – without the need for an expensive gym membership.
Eat well and keep moving to improve your heart health, your circulation and your mind. Nobody wants to have to take statins for high cholesterol, which has a major impact on your heart.
Written by Bev Walton
Food Writer and Nutritionist, dietician
A chef of over 35 years with experience in all types of cuisine, dietary plans, recipe development, health and nutrition. I have been writing for over 10 years for both magazines, websites and ghostwriting for ebooks, Kindle and fully published books. I have a degree in nutrition and dietetics and work with restaurants and organisations within the healthcare profession. I am also able to take high quality photographs of recipes created. No writing task is too great, and whilst I specialise in the above, I am able to write about any topic you throw at me. Member of the Guild of food writers.