When it comes to achieving optimal heart health, planning ahead can make a difference. It’s easier to eat healthy meals when you’ve planned ahead because it helps you avoid defaulting to fast food. Even planning your meals for the next day will help you get your daily share of heart healthy fruits and vegetables, leafy greens, legumes and beans. Yet planning ahead at work and in your personal life not only helps you get things done – which creates the endorphins associated with pride and satisfaction – it reduces stress, both of which are good for the heart.
Rice is a staple food world-wide, but when it comes to heart health, it’s important that you make brown rice your go-to. It’s high in B-complex vitamins, niacin, magnesium and the fibre that is essential to well-functioning digestive and cardiovascular systems. Brown rice contains a specific natural compound that inhibits the protein angiotensin II which can thicken and harden the arteries. Brown rice is also such a versatile player and can help you fix up a heart healthy lunch for the day. When having sushi or burritos, be good to your heart and ask for brown rice.
Fruits and veggies are good for overall health, not just for the cardiovascular system. Among the best are those coloured orange (oranges, carrots, squash, papaya and mangoes) and red (tomatoes and red peppers). They are rich in alpha and beta carotene, vitamin C, and potassium. Like many heart healthy foods, they’re high in fibre. For those of us on the run, these orange and red fruits and vegetables are easy to bring along for the ride. Led by oranges and tomatoes, they also make for great juices, especially when freshly squeezed or juiced with some of the fiber.
Berries – most notably organic blueberries, strawberries, raspberries and cranberries – are good for the cardiovascular system because of antioxidants such as the flavonoid anthocyanin. These berries are another of the heart healthy foods high in fibre, along with carotenoids (Beta and lutein), vitamin C and minerals such as calcium, magnesium and potassium. Studies show that blueberries are at the top of the list for fresh fruits and vegetables in terms of heart healthy antioxidants. Try them in smoothies, salads, and trail mixes with seeds and nuts.
A glass of red wine tonight could be more than just a romantic scene-setter. It could be part of a plan in which you drink red wine responsibly and in moderation in order to benefit from flavonoids such as catechins and especially resveratrol. Some research has shown that red wine may improve your good cholesterol (HDL). Ingredients in red wine may also burn fat, dilate the arteries and lower blood pressure, all of which are good for the heart. Be careful, of course, with alcohol and check out the Mayo Clinic online for more information.
Music therapy is a relatively new field but studies into the effects of music on the cardiovascular system have been undertaken for almost 35 years. Key indicators such as blood pressure, heart rate and even blood flow can be affected by music. Of course, music is highly-personal and different kinds of music (from classical and ballads to dance and rock) may trigger different effects. Yet hospital studies have shown patients listening to short periods of music had better heart vitals (and less stress) than those who didn’t have access to music.
Legumes such as alfalfa, clover, lentils and beans are winners in a heart healthy diet. As examples, black and kidney beans can support your cardiovascular system when added to soups or salads. They’re rich in B-complex vitamins, niacin, folate, magnesium and calcium, along with soluble fibre; helpful in lowering blood cholesterol levels. They carry an array of phytonutrients that protect us from oxidative damage and inflammation; big concerns for the cardio-vascular system. They’re also big on Omega-3 fatty acids, which are pillars in a heart healthy diet.
There is often a lot of hidden sodium in many of the foods we eat, particularly in processed or prepared foods. Getting into a habit of reading labels and being more conscious of our salt intake can help ensure we are not over-consuming. Too much sodium can tax the kidneys and overwork the heart. Eating too much salt – especially over an extended period of time can potentially cause high blood pressure. It also plays havoc with our body fluid levels (because sodium holds water).
Regardless of where you’re at in your current fitness, walking is the most natural, easiest and cost effective form of exercise. Harvard Alumni studies suggest that walking just 30 minutes per day can reduce your risk of heart disease and stroke. Brisk walking raises the heart rate and strengthens it and increases blood circulation throughout your body. Start out slow and short, increasing both pace and distance gradually. You might pump up your motivation by wearing a pedometer to count your steps or joining a local walking group.
Blood pressure – measuring the pressure circulating blood puts on the arterial walls — is one of the key barometers of heart health. The optimal ratio is 120 over 80. If your blood pressure is significantly higher or lower, make sure to check with your physician. A heart healthy BMI is in the range between 18.5 and 24.9 kg/m2, usually the sign of a pear-shaped instead of an apple-shaped body. If you’re a man over 40 or a woman over 50, you should also ask your doctor to have your cholesterol tested. For more on these important vital numbers, visit www.heartandstroke.com