5 Ways to Protect Your Heart
Hearts are our heroes! They deserve a lot of praise for all of the hard work they do to keep us alive. Like a persistent machine, an average heart recycles the blood in our bodies around 1,000 times a day and beats almost 3 billion times in a lifetime. This incredible organ, just about the size of a fist, is also greatly influenced by many lifestyle factors. Here are some easy ways you can protect this magnificent organ:
1. Boost your fiber intake. Fiber is a great benefactor for heart health. However, most Americans don’t get enough of it in their diets. Fiber helps lower harmful LDL cholesterol and keeps us feeling fuller longer, which prevents overeating. Some great food sources include whole grains, nuts, seeds, wheat cereals, fruits and vegetables. Men should aim for about 38 grams of fiber per day, and women should try for around 25 grams of fiber per day. Make sure to increase your fiber intake gradually, with water.
2. All hail healthy fats! Your heart loves it when you eat your monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. You can find monounsaturated fats in foods like avocados, nuts and olive oil. There are two types of polyunsaturated fats: omega-3 fatty acids and omega-6 fatty acids. These are essential, meaning your body cannot make them on their own and will require you to get them from your diet. Some great sources of polyunsaturated fats include certain types of fish (such as salmon, tuna and sardines), flaxseeds, walnuts and canola oil. These heart healthy fats help increase “good” (HDL) cholesterol, reduce triglyceride levels in the blood and lower blood pressure.
3. Flee from these fats! Fats to limit for heart health include trans and saturated fats. Trans fats support the production of harmful LDL cholesterol and reduce the good HDL cholesterol in the blood. Additionally, trans fats can create inflammation in the body, which can lead to chronic conditions (i.e. heart disease, stroke, diabetes). According to Harvard Health, “Even small amounts of trans fats can harm health: for every 2% of calories from trans fat consumed daily, the risk of heart disease rises by 23%.” Trans fats may be found in some store bought baked goods, frozen meals and fast food. When it comes to saturated fat, too much can increase total cholesterol and shift the balance toward more harmful LDL cholesterol. It is recommended to limit saturated fat intake by keeping it under 10% of calories per day. Food sources for saturated fats include tropical oils and animal fat.
4. Reduce your sodium intake. Limit high-sodium foods because too much salt can increase your blood pressure. As we age, we become more sensitive to salt. This sensitivity can cause edema (swelling) in the hands and feet. The American Heart Association recommends no more than 2300 mg of sodium a day, which is about the size a teaspoon. Check the Nutrition Facts label for the Percent Daily Value of sodium – 5% or less is considered a low sodium food, while 20% or more is considered high. Another useful tip is to ditch the salt shaker and flavor foods with fresh herbs and spices instead.
5. Elevate your exercise routine. Pump up your heart by engaging in aerobic activities (i.e. brisk walking, bicycling, dancing, stair master, rowing). Aerobic exercise improves circulation, decreases stress and lowers blood pressure. Try to get 30 minutes per day at least five days a week. Engage in resistance training such as lifting dumbbells, using weight machines or resistance bands. This type of exercise can help shrink fat and increase lean muscle mass, which can help decrease the risk for heart disease. Aim to weight train at least two days per week.
Reducing stress, being smoke free and maintaining a healthy weight are some other ways to protect your heart. And try not to worry too much after reading all of this, relaxing and having a good laugh are beneficial to the heart, too! According to The Franklin Institute, “Studies show that a hearty laugh can prompt your blood vessels to expand and contract, increasing your blood flow by up to 20%. That can promote healthier blood vessels – and help ward off cardiovascular disease.” So watch a funny cat video and take care of that great machine in your body!
Learn more about heart health and other wellness programs offered by Wellness Workdays.
Written by: Kristin Repella, Wellness Workdays Dietetic Intern.