Keeping your blood sugar in check and avoiding insulin resistance are just two components of heart health. It’s a matter of giving the body the appropriate building blocks that are fully absorbed at the cellular level and capable of supporting the structure and function of the heart.
Small changes can add up to a healthy heart. Here are a few practical strategies outlined below that can prove helpful no matter where you are in your journey.
Eating for the Heart
Reaching for whole grains, fruits, vegetables, legumes, fish, and nuts are some of your best options for optimizing your nutrition.
Aim for a healthy, balanced diet that emphasizes:
- Healthy sources of protein
- A wide variety of fruits & vegetables
- Whole grains with plenty of fiber (some include millet, quinoa, brown rice, buckwheat, and amaranth)
- Minimally processed foods
- Little to no intake of added sugars and artificial ingredients
- Avoid saturated fats in processed and fried foods
Cut back or even eliminate heavily processed foods if possible. As you choose your vegetables, take color into account! Vegetables come in every color of the rainbow, opt for a more colorful plate during mealtime full of red, orange, yellow, and dark-green vegetables.
Specific fruits & vegetables that carry extra benefits for the heart include:
- Green leafy vegetables
- Root vegetables
Supersize servings that we get in restaurants and second helpings at home are hidden culprits for added pounds. One way to avoid added calories and manage weight is to allow 4-6 hours between meals. Spreading out your mealtimes is an excellent way to build better eating habits.
Steaming, roasting, broiling and boiling are clean ways of cooking that keep you away from frying with unhealthy vegetable oils. If you do want to sauté vegetables or fry an egg, try using coconut oil.
Adequate hydration with pure water is essential for proper blood circulation and heart function. However, when we purify water these days, we lose most of the good minerals along with the bad chemicals. The proper use of mineral supplementation and water hydrates and helps re-mineralize cells, making them far less susceptible to erratic electrical conductivity. Take your weight in pounds, divide that number in half, and try to aim for that many ounces of water per day.
Many people have been led to believe that salt is “bad”. Although quality ranges depending on the type, sea salt is generally very healthy because it is composed of 72 trace minerals. Table salt is not as healthy because it’s refined from sea salt to only contain sodium chloride. Try to limit your intake of canned soups and processed meats not only because of the high sodium content, but also because they are so overly processed that nutrient content is sacrificed. Instead of table salt, substitute sea salt or Himalayan salt. Good is defined by the color of the salt. A pure white sea salt has been processed and the important minerals removed.
Below is a chart outlining additional easy substitutions for some of the common food favorites:
Due to the heart’s never-ending workload, we do ourselves a favor when we take care of it from the inside out. Heart healthy eating can be enjoyable when you take simple steps each day to ensure long-term benefits for cardiovascular health.
The Importance of Supplementation
Many advise eating organic as much as possible and a minimum for 5 servings of fruits and vegetables per day. While this is great advice, our food quality and farming practices are also much different today compared to the past. With an emphasis on maximizing efficiency to reduce costs and increase production, poor soil quality has been a result, drastically reducing the mineral content of our foods. This means that getting enough minerals from diet alone is difficult. In addition to a well balanced diet, it has become essential to invest in superior quality mineral supplementation for proper cell hydration, which can be just as highly absorbed as plant minerals.
7 Powerhouse Nutrients
If your heart is not supplied with the right nutrients in the correct amounts, how can it possibly function properly? In addition to magnesium, below are heavy hitters you can add to your daily routine that may help support heart health and vitality.
This electrolyte mineral, along with magnesium, is crucial for proper electrical transmission in the heart. Normal levels of potassium help relax blood vessel walls and protect against muscle cramping.
As we discussed earlier, Magnesium regulates hundreds of body systems and has a lot of influence on the heart and blood vessels. This vital nutrient helps support a healthy blood pressure, muscle health, and a normal heart rhythm.
Calcium is important for the transmission of impulses in nerve and muscle cells, including cardiac muscle cells. Calcium can’t deliver without the balancing effect of magnesium.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Omega 3’s from fish and fish oil can help support a normal blood pressure, lower triglyceride levels, increase high density lipoprotein (good cholesterol) levels, and prevent platelet aggregation.
Vitamin D supports healthy blood sugar levels by helping to prevent the destruction of beta cells in the pancreas that make insulin and promoting a normal blood pressure.
Vitamin E supports the structure and function of the heart, blood vessels, the immune system, and is an important antioxidant that helps neutralize toxins from the environment.
Specifically for heart health, vitamin C may support vascular elasticity because vitamin C helps produce collagen, a major component of blood vessels. Weak or fragile blood vessels can lead to bruising or in the extreme cases, aneurysm.
Exercise for the Heart
Exercise is a great way to give the heart some extra TLC. Just as exercise may strengthen other parts of the body, it also helps our heart muscles to thrive. Regular physical activity contributes to normal growth and development and can help reduce the risk of chronic conditions. Even in short sessions, physical activity can improve sleep quality, cognitive health, bone and muscle function, and the ability to perform daily activities.
Specifically for heart health, regular exercise can deliver:
- May improve calories burned to aid weight loss
- Support for a healthy resting heart rate
- Promote healthy cholesterol levels
- Maintain a healthy resting blood pressure
Aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate physical activity or 75 minutes of vigorous physical activity (or an equal combination of both) each week. Instead of viewing it as a daily burden, look for ways to build short bursts of activity into your routine such as parking farther away and opting for stairs instead of the elevator. After meals, instead of diving into a food coma, try taking a walk instead! There are many creative ways you can move towards a more active lifestyle.
Start slow and gradually increase the amount of physical activity, it also helps to find activities that you enjoy. If an extra boost is needed, try taking advantage of community by asking family or a friend to join you. Any increase in physical activity will be beneficial to your overall health and wellbeing – no matter your age or size.
*Be sure to speak with a health professional before beginning a new exercise program.
In what seems like an already busy day for most of us, the thought of setting aside time for meditation, 30 minutes of reading, or yoga/stretching can seem like an overcommitment.
However, it’s when stress spirals out of control that it wreaks havoc on virtually every body system, including cardiovascular health. Under stress, the heart pumps faster. Stress hormones cause the blood vessels to constrict in order to send oxygen to your muscles. This raises blood pressure levels and places additional stress on the heart. Increased heart rate, rapid breathing and an influx of hormones create the recipe for decreased heart function.
Being intentional about setting aside time for yourself each day has a ripple effect on your internal and external environment. When we make time for self-care, we are better prepared to handle any stresses that come our way.
Strategies to unwind and decompress at the end of each day:
- Go outside and get some natural vitamin D (Exercise is a great way to do this!)
- Try relaxing activities such as meditation, breathing techniques and yoga.
- Connect with Others: Keep in touch with those in your community who can help to provide emotional support.
- Start a new book
- Time-Management: By scheduling your day, you can more efficiently juggle work and family demands.
- Self-Care! Find ways to nurture yourself: It may be as simple as treating yourself to your favorite meal, or taking a nap to recharge.
When you care for your heart, the entire body thanks you
The key is to integrate multiple lifestyle changes including nutrition, exercise, and stress management. All of these pillars are connected, so ignoring one can impact your ability to sustain the other.
Whatever your inspiration, know that practicing and implementing heart healthy strategies is worth the effort. With simple steps, you can take the route to improved health and a better quality of life..