Written by Kim Lowry, nutrition communications intern for Triad to Wellness
Edited by Sarah Achleithner, nutrition communications coordinator for Triad to Wellness
Your heart is a vital organ that is responsible for pumping blood and transporting nutrients throughout the body, which is why having good heart health is vital to maintaining a healthy body. Cardiovascular disease is a major health concern in the United States and protecting your heart is key to lowering your risk, so here are 10 simple lifestyle changes you can make to help keep your heart healthy!
Blueberries, raspberries, and strawberries are rich in disease fighting antioxidants, and the pigment Anthocyanin helps protect the heart by decreasing harmful low density lipoproteins (LDL’s) in the arteries.1 LDL is known as “bad cholesterol” because it contributes to plaque, which is a thick, hard deposit that can clog arteries and make them less flexible, and can lead to a number of heart problems. Eating foods high in antioxidants can help prevent plaque from building up, so try to aim for one cup of your favorite berries a day. To switch things up and add more nutritional value to your daily meals, try pairing berries with protein packed cottage cheese for a balanced and filling morning parfait!
2. Whole Grains
Whole grains are high in fiber, as this nutrient may help lower triglycerides, decrease blood pressure, and possibly help regulate blood sugar levels. Fiber may also increase satiety, which in turn could help with weight management. This is important because those maintaining a healthy weight are at less risk for cardiovascular related disease.2 Freekeh is a great example of a whole grain that’s high in fiber, rich in protein, non-GMO certified, and pairs well with soups, pilafs, breakfast cereals, and salads!
3. Green Tea
Green tea contains certain chemicals called catechins, which hamper the body’s inflammatory response to bacteria that cause gum disease.3 This is key with research showing dental health is highly correlated with cardiovascular risks 4, as studies have shown that those who drink green tea regularly may find themselves being less stressed compared to their non-drinking counterparts. This is important to heart health, because stress puts extra strain on your heart and, over time, causes plaque buildup in the arteries.
Highly praised as a “super food”, avocados are definitely beneficial to heart health! Avocados are packed with heart healthy monounsaturated fats which may decrease cholesterol and prevent blood clotting, and also contain potassium to help control blood pressure, as lower blood pressure puts less stress on your heart! For an extra dose of nutrition, try avocado sliced on toast, in a salad, or mashed into a tasty guacamole dip.
5. Wild Caught Salmon
Not only is salmon a lean source of protein, but it’s also packed with heart healthy omega-3’s. Studies have shown that diets high in omega-3 fatty acids have been found to reduce blood pressure and prevent blood clotting, which is important in the maintenance of heart health. Salmon also contains carotenoid astaxanthin, a powerful antioxidant that helps excrete disease causing free radicals.5 For the greatest cardio protective effect, 2 servings of wild caught salmon per week is recommended.
Garlic isn’t just for vampires! Seasoning foods with fresh garlic may decrease cholesterol and improve blood flow, which will help alleviate un-necessary stress on your heart, as it reduces stress on the muscle. Along with heart-healthy benefits, garlic also adds great flavor to any dish! Try seasoning a soup, poultry or whole grains like Freekeh, brown rice, or quinoa with this tasty herb.
Studies have shown that daily mediation may help to relieve stress and protect heart health, as it decreases blood pressure, and improves heart rate in some.8 The effect is even greater in those already dealing with cardiovascular problems, such as hypertension.
Exercising at a moderate intensity for 30 minutes a day may help strengthen your heart and keep it healthy! The benefits of regular exercise include maintaining a healthy weight, lowering blood pressure, decreasing “bad” LDL cholesterol, and increasing “good” HDL cholesterol.6 A daily sweat session also releases endorphins to help improve mood and decrease stress levels, which are other risk factors for heart problems.7 The key to reaping benefits from exercise is the level of intensity that you put into it. Try adding a brisk walk, run or hike to increase your heart rate, or join a group fitness class at your local gym. Exercise classes such as Zumba and Bootcamp are great ways to get your sweat on and maintain your heart health!
9. Boost Self-Esteem
Maintaining a positive self-esteem is important for heart health! Studies have shown that negative emotions may increase inflammation in the body, which causes chronic damage to the arteries over time, so feeling confident in yourself helps increase mood and may protect your heart by minimizing unnecessary inflammation. Easy ways to increase self-esteem are to get involved in a meaningful program, set goals to work toward, and do things for others you care about.
10. Good Night’s Sleep
With an on-the-go lifestyle dominating the average American’s schedule, it’s extremely easy to neglect your sleeping habits. However, a good night’s rest helps keep your heart healthy 9–during the sleep cycle your heart rate and blood pressure drop, which gives your heart time to rest after working hard all day. 7-9 hours of sleep is the optimal time to ensure your heart wakes up fully rested!