Hearts may be the theme of the month, but how is your own?

February 1, 2021

When it comes to this time of the year, it is very hard to avoid hearts and thoughts of love at every turn. It is also a good time to take a look at how you look after your own heart and show your health some love!

We know that heart disease is one of the biggest killers of both men and women, but why wait until something is wrong before you attempt to fix it? Think about how hard your heart is working whatever you are doing or even if you are doing nothing, it pays to keep it in the best condition you can and be aware of any changes. Prevention is definitely better than cure in this case. Here are some facts and figures from the British Heart Foundation.

  • Heart and circulatory diseases cause more than a quarter of all deaths in the UK, that’s nearly 170,000 deaths each year – an average of 460 deaths each day or one every three minutes in the UK.
  • There are around 7.4 million people living with heart and circulatory disease in the UK: 3.9 million men and 3.5 million women.
  • Coronary heart disease (CHD) is the most common type of heart and circulatory disease. It is also the most common cause of heart attack and the single biggest killer worldwide.
  • In the UK there are more than 100,000 hospital admissions each year due to heart attacks: that’s one every five minutes.
  • Around 1.4 million people alive in the UK today have survived a heart attack.

Do you know what your heart rate is? It is not something that you might ordinarily be conscious of, but knowing what it is normally is a good way of being able to be aware if things change. The British Heart Foundation (BHF) has an easy way to check and what to look for.

As so often, the basis of your good health comes down to what foods you put in your body. A healthy heart is no exception. If fact, one of the key reasons you see so much about the Mediterranean diet is because it is good for your heart. Whatever your age, it never hurts to look at your diet and make it as healthy as possible. Especially if you have a history of heart disease in the family. Aim for a good variety of fruits and vegetables, especially the brightly coloured ones as they are rich in antioxidants. Try and eat oily fish, rich in omega 3 oils, which you will also find in plants such as flax and hemp oils.

The Mediterranean diet is well know for being rich in foods that are important for a healthy heart.

Seeds and nuts can easily be added to breakfast cereals such as muesli and porridge, in fact if you make sure you include oats and oat bran in your breakfast, you are including some very healthy fibres that have been shown to lower cholesterol levels. Oats provide both soluble and insoluble fibres, the insoluble fibre is good for gut health and keeping the digestive tract clean. Soluble fibre forms a gel which binds to the cholesterol-rich bile acids in the intestines. This helps reduce the amount of cholesterol that you absorb as well as meaning the liver has to take more cholesterol from the blood to make more bile acids. Just remember, not all cholesterol is bad, we need a certain amount for normal function of organs such as the brain. If you have a test, ask for a reading that tells you a split between the HDL (not so good) and the LDL (the better form) of cholesterol.

Simple dietary changes can make a big difference to your overall heart health, plant oils tend to be classed as good fats and can be better for you than too many saturated or animal fats. Use good quality cold pressed virgin olive oil on your salads, adding flavour and polyphenols—antioxidant compounds that are naturally present in the oil.

The heart is a muscle and we all know muscles work better and keep stronger when they are regularly exercised. So a sedentary lifestyle with too much sitting and not enough moving, is not good for our heart and circulation. You needn’t jump up and start running marathons, in fact that isn’t a good idea at all for someone that has not really exercised. However, a walk at a gentle pace for 30 minutes, two or three times a week can be really helpful in helping your cardiovascular health and also your mobility. Regular exercise will gradually have you walking further in your 30 minutes and also you will hopefully find that you are less out of breath doing simple tasks that might have been troublesome before. You can find some easy to do recommendations for Heart UK here. How many times have you heard take the stairs instead of the lift? It is often quoted as a simple way of improving our exercise levels and supporting heart health, it may be simple, but it is an easy way to up your activity levels.

The heart is a muscle and we all know muscles work better when they are regularly exercised.

Diet and exercise are at the root of our overall wellness in so many cases, as always there are also supplements that can be used as part of your wellness regime and make a useful addition. Here are just a few that you might like to include.

Coenzyme Q 10 is naturally occurring in the mitochondria of almost all our cells. It is like a sparkplug that helps ‘ignite’ fuel and create energy, you find it concentrated in areas of the body that have high energy needs, the heart being one of those. Our levels naturally decline with age, so a supplement can keep levels of this antioxidant nutrient topped up. Coenzyme Q 10 is a natural partner for vitamin E, another antioxidant nutrient. When looking for a vitamin E supplement, it is a good idea to look for one that provides mixed tocopherols and tocotrienals. In nature, vitamin is isn’t just one form, but a complex. If your supplement can reflect that, you are getting a wider range of the compounds.

When looking for a vitamin E supplement, look for one that has the full vitamin E complex.

If you are exercising regularly and are taking Coenzyme Q10, you might also like to add the amino acid L-Carnitine. This amino acid transports fatty acids to the mitochondria of the cell for energy production. In the body, it is found in the heart and the brain as well as in the skeletal muscles.

Taurine is another amino acid that is abundant in heart muscle and can be found in supplements along with the minerals potassium and magnesium. Potassium contributes to normal blood pressure levels, if you are already taking medication for high or low blood pressure, speak to your pharmacist or GP before you take extra potassium.

It works closely with the mineral magnesium. In fact, they both work towards normal functioning of the nervous system. We know that if we get stressed or agitated, this is not good for our hearts, so ensuring a regular supply of these nutrients through diet or supplements can be helpful.

Magnesium also contributes to the reductio of tiredness and fatigue. If you are feeling too tired to take part in some sort of regular exercise, ensuring an adequate intake of magnesium could help you feel less fatigued. The B complex vitamins also help with tiredness and fatigue, so you might like to consider magnesium and B vitamins. Look for a B complex with the nutrients in their active form for better absorption and utilisation.

Take time this February to look after your own heart before you think about someone else’s. It can be a timely reminder to take care of one of the hardest working parts of our body and one that sometimes we tend to forget.

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