Taking care of your heart is a very good idea. As well as helping protect you from deadly heart disease, heart care boosts your all-round health and quality of life.
About Heart Disease and Heart Attacks
Every day, hundreds of Australians suffer from heart attacks. Those who are lucky enough to recover often suffer another (and often fatal) heart attack later on.
Heart disease — the number 1 cause of death in Australia — kills more than twice as many people as any form of cancer. The good news is that heart disease is largely preventable, and taking steps to minimise your risk can add 10 years to your life.
The heart is an amazing muscle. This powerful pump is responsible for delivering blood (which carries oxygen and nutrients) to all parts of the body. Most of us take our hearts for granted — until we experience a problem.
A stroke, heart attack or even a diagnosis of high blood pressure can cause you to take notice of your heart health. But cardiovascular fitness doesn’t just happen. How you treat your heart will determine how long and how well it will continue to work for you.
How to Prevent Heart Disease
Some risk factors are beyond your control; for example, heredity (heart disease tends to run in families) and age (most deaths from heart disease occur in people over age 65). But there are lifestyle factors you can control that may help prevent, or at least postpone, heart disease.
You really are what you eat. If you typically consume high-fat foods, you’re contributing to the build-up of plaque in your arteries, and plaque impedes blood flow.
If a blockage occurs in an artery that carries blood to the heart, it causes a heart attack. If a blockage occurs in an artery that carries blood to the brain, it causes a stroke. A heart-healthy diet, however, helps keep your arteries clear and your blood flowing freely.
Try these tips:
- Cut back on foods that are high in saturated fat, particularly red meat, butter, high-fat dairy and coconut oil. Saturated fat may boost your cholesterol levels more than anything else you eat.
- If you eat meat, use lean cuts and reduce portion size.
- Eat more fish, and skinless chicken and turkey.
- Eat more vegetables and fruits. Oranges, bananas, potatoes and tomatoes, for example, supply your body with potassium, which may help control blood pressure. They also provide essential antioxidant vitamins.
- Eat more fibre. Fibre-rich foods such as oatmeal, oat bran, rice, wheat bran, barley and beans may help lower blood cholesterol levels.
- Bake, broil, steam or grill foods rather than frying.
- Try sherbet, ice milk or frozen low-fat yoghurt instead of ice cream.
- Avoid adding salt to foods at the table. Cutting back on sodium may help
lower blood pressure.
- If you drink beer, wine, or other alcoholic beverages, do so in moderation.
B. Maintain a Healthy Body Weight
The best way to do this is to make sure the calories you consume do not exceed the calories you burn. Being overweight increases your risk of heart disease because excess body weight forces your heart to work harder and less efficiently.
If you’re overweight, losing 5-10 percent of your body weight can significantly reduce your risk of heart disease. If you need to lose, focus on a gradual weight reduction of up to a kg per week.
C. Get Moving
Regular exercise is essential for a healthy heart. Exercise helps control cholesterol levels and body weight, and reduces blood pressure. And because your heart is a muscle, it gets stronger with regular exercise like any other muscle in your body.
To get the most benefit, you need aerobic exercise (brisk walking, jogging, swimming, cycling) at least three times a week for 30 minutes. But even if you think you don’t have time for an exercise routine, there are ways to strengthen your heart muscle:
- Take the stairs instead of the elevator.
- Park at the far end of the parking lot when you go to the mall.
- Do housework or yard work at a quicker pace and more often (like hoeing the garden, or vacuuming every day).
- Get out of your chair regularly to avoid being sedentary for long periods.
D. Don’t Smoke
Smokers are up to three times more likely to have a heart attack than non-smokers. Nicotine injures the lining of blood vessels and increases the build-up of fatty deposits, which can lead to heart disease. Exposure to other people’s smoke (second-hand smoke) can also increase your risk.
E. Reduce Stress
Stress can adversely affect your heart health. It can raise your blood pressure and injure the arteries due to increased blood flow during the stress response. Relaxation techniques such as yoga, meditation and massage can often help lower your stress level.
F. Nutritional Supplements
Even if you eat a high-fibre, low-fat, well-balanced diet, studies show your heart can benefit from a nutritional supplement. Antioxidant vitamins (A, C and E) guard against free-radical damage, which gives extra protection against heart disease.
Garlic helps lower cholesterol and blood pressure, and Ginkgo biloba promotes optimal functioning of the heart. And the supplements Co-Q10, Pycnogenol, grape seed extract and soy protein all benefit your heart health.
G. Omega 3 Fatty Acids
In the late 1970’s a group of scientists did a study on Greenland Eskimos because they have a very low rate of heart disease. The were surprised to find that these Eskimos actually ate a fairly high fat diet, with approximately 39% of their caloric intake from fat!
Further analysis revealed their intake of saturated fat to be low, whereas their dietary intake of Omega 3 Fatty Acids was high.
These findings contrasted sharply with the dietary habits of an ethnically similar population in Denmark, with much higher rates of heart disease. The Danish diet had a comparable amount of fat (42% of total energy), but a much lower intake of polyunsaturated fat vs saturated fat.
A second similar study followed inhabitants of Greenland and Denmark for 25 years. A 10-fold increase in heart attacks was noted in the Denmark group!
A couple of other studies dramatically show the benefits of Omega-3PUFA. The first study was done on men, ages 40-84 years of age, who were free of heart disease. These men were asked to complete food questionnaires on fish consumption, and were followed for 11 years. The results showed that consuming at least one fish meal per week reduced the risk of Cardiac Sudden Death by 52% compared to those consuming fish only monthly!
The previously mentioned study involved Omega-3PUFA derived from fish sources. A study of Omega-3PUFA from plant sources was done on 76,283 women, aged 30-55, who were free of heart disease at the onset of the study. The results showed the higher the intake of Omega-3PUFA, the lower the mortality rate from heart disease.
Interestingly, women who consumed oil and vinegar salad dressing were at a much lower risk of fatal heart attacks. These salad dressings typically are made with unhydrogenated soy bean oil, which contains about 7% Omega-3PUFA.
The best fish sources of Omega-3PUFA are: salmon, mackerel, herring and tuna.
The best plant sources of Omega-3PUFA are: flax seed oil (by far, the richest in W-3PUFA), butternuts, walnuts, soybeans.
The best oil sources of Omega-3PUFA are flaxseed, soybean and canola.
If your diet is not rich in these food groups, a daily supplement of Omega-3 Fatty Acids would be a great benefit.