Heart Health

5 Ways to Improve the Health of Your Heart

Your heart is the muscle that gets the job done by pumping the blood that circulates throughout your body. Like all the muscles in your body, it needs to be taken care of. Many people don’t realize they have heart problems until a problem arises.

Preventative measures can improve the health of your heart and lower your risk of heart related diseases. When your heart is healthy, it contributes to continued good health for your entire body.

Dietary Changes to Help Heal Your Heart

You can begin to heal your heart by making the right dietary changes. One of the best changes to start with is to make sure that you’re eating the correct portion sizes. Changing what you eat won’t matter if you’re consuming more calories or carbs than your body needs, because this can impact your heart health.

This is where many people mess up. If you eat enough servings for two people, then your heart is working twice as hard regardless of what you’re eating. Even foods that are healthy can pack on the pounds.

Foods are labeled according to their serving sizes and you can follow this as a guide for how much to eat. For foods that don’t come with labels, such as items from the produce section or fresh meats, you’ll need to look up what the serving size is as well as what the carb load is.

For example, a banana, while good for you, contains 27 carbs if it’s around 8 inches long. Just half a cup of corn contains over 20 carbs. That carb count changes, depending on whether or not you eat it on or off the cob.

You can easily eat more carbs that you think you are and the carb count matters if you’re following a low carb diet to improve the health of your heart. You need to be sure that you follow a lifestyle diet that consists of low calorie foods that are high in vitamins and minerals.

These will be foods like fruits and vegetables. You’ll want to choose low carb vegetables such as broccoli. You can have an entire cup of this for only 6 carbs. Or, you can have a cup of raw spinach and only get 1 carb per serving.

If you don’t know what the serving size for a food is, then take the time to look it up. Keep a food tracker on hand so that you can refer back to it when you have the same foods again.

There are some foods that you’re better off avoiding, except on a rare or special occasion. Any food that’s processed or contains a lot of unhealthy fats is bad for your heart.

This is especially true of convenience foods, specifically fast foods. While they might be convenient time wise, your heart will pay the price. You’ll want to avoid food items that don’t offer much nutritionally.

An example of this would be butter or gravy. Neither offers you much nutritionally and you can switch both for lower fat, healthier options. Limit your salt, too. Even in people with no history of heart disease, consuming too much salt leads to a rise in blood pressure because salt forces the body to hold onto fluids.

Even if it’s not a long term risk, it still causes your heart to work harder to pump more blood than it should. You can go low sodium without giving it up completely, but keep in mind salt, like sugar, is a hidden ingredient in many food sources.

Exercise to Strengthen the State of Your Heart

When you get regular exercise, you can strengthen your heart. Exercise can prevent the prevalence of certain factors that put your heart at risk. For example, when you exercise, it lowers your blood pressure.

Lowered blood pressure means that your heart isn’t having to work as hard to do its job. Exercise also works to keep damaging health risks at bay – such as higher cholesterol levels, which can lead to clogged arteries.

When you exercise, you strengthen your heart by keeping your glucose level under control for those with diabetes. But exercise can also be a preventative for even developing a disease like diabetes, which directly affect the heart’s health.

Some of the benefits of exercising will take awhile before there will be any improvements, and you may not even be aware of these changes. When you exercise, the movement helps dilate your blood vessels.

This gives the body a boost of oxygen, which results in better cardiovascular strength. You’ll also benefit from having a lowered heart rate when resting. Having a lower resting heart rate means that your heart is able to supply the body with the blood it needs without contracting as hard or as fast.

This is easier on your heart. While exercise produces long term heart benefits, it also gives you short term perks as well. With exercise, your heart can become more resistant to things that might lead to poor heart health.

Even if you don’t exercise daily, your workout can linger as a boost for your heart. The positive benefits will still be there even after you’ve stopped exercising for that session. You may have seen advice that tells you to just “be more active,” but strengthening your heart isn’t as simple as that.

Moving around won’t give you any benefit unless it’s intentional in a way that makes your heart beat faster. Just as with any muscle in the body, the heart has to get a workout in.

If what you’re doing doesn’t cause your heart to beat faster and harder, then it’s not being strengthened. You need 150 minutes a week of moderate exercise in order to strengthen your heart.

One example of moderate exercise would be fast walking. You should walk fast enough so that you can’t easily breathe and talk at the same time. Running would also qualify as moderate exercise, as long your pace is rapid and steady.

Another example would be riding a bike, but only if there’s quick pacing or resistance. Riding a bike on a flat surface doesn’t force your heart to beat harder unless you’re biking fast.

For a better moderate exercise that strengthens the heart, you would want to bike up a hill. Cardio exercises are great for the heart. You can use stairs and go up and down them to get a heart workout.

Even doing chores around the house, such as mowing the lawn (using a push mower, not a riding one, of course) could be exercise to help strengthen your heart. As long as you keep up the pace, it will benefit your heart health.  I find dancing is a great way to work on strengthening the heart – it’s fun and doesn’t feel like exercise!!

Smoking Cessation Is Vital to Protect Your Heart

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Certain bad habits can negatively impact your heart health and one of these habits is smoking. Whether you smoke daily or a few times a week, it can still affect your heart.  In order to protect and strengthen your heart, one of the best things you can do is to break this habit now.

When you smoke, the chemicals that are in the smoke hurt your heart and can cause health issues leading to heart attacks and other forms of heart damage. This damage to your heart, including the blood vessels, is what can lead to a build-up of plaque.

Many people think that being overweight or eating the wrong kinds of foods is what caused the buildup of plaque within the heart’s arteries. So they make sure they try to keep their weight down and eat healthier.

But those actions are not enough if you smoke. While that’s true that those issues can contribute to the condition known as atherosclerosis, smoking is one of the main causes of heart trouble.

Your arteries are like straws that allow the blood to get pumped throughout your body to and from your heart. When one of the straws gets clogged by the buildup, the result is thickening or narrowed passageways.

Eventually, the buildup creates a blockage where no more blood can flow through and that leads to a heart attack. Smoking makes your blood thick and sticky. This causes your heart to have to work harder to try to pump the blood.

It also elevates your risk of developing a blood clot within an artery, which can lead to sudden death. When you smoke, you’re also at risk for palpitations as well as heart rhythm abnormalities, such as atrial fibrillation.

But once you stop smoking, your risk factors drop drastically. Within minutes of giving up the habit, your heart will stop working as hard. The fast heart rate caused by the smoking will return to normal range.

The elevated blood pressure that’s caused by smoking will also return to normal. The problems that smoking caused – such as issues within your arteries, will be interrupted and in many cases, the damage can be undone.

When you smoke, your LDL cholesterol rises, which is one of the reasons smokers end up with plaque in the arteries. So by stopping, you lower your risk of having a heart attack or experiencing a clot, because you’ll also lower your cholesterol levels.

Stress Relief Shields Your Heart from Health Issues

Stress can happen daily. Everyone encounters it. What causes your stress can vary from day to day. You can go through stress because of physical injuries or by not having your physical needs met, such as not getting the right foods or losing sleep.

When you get sick, this can also be a stressor. If you’re going through an emotional upheaval such as a job loss, financial pressure or relationship strife, this will cause stress.

When you go through stressful times, cortisol floods your system. When your body has too much cortisol, it raises your blood pressure. The adrenal surge you get from stress can make your heart work harder, not to mention the other internal changes stress causes.

It’s these changes that take place that affect your heart negatively and raise your risk factor for a heart attack if the stress isn’t relieved. Research has shown that when stress is relieved, it lowers the impact of negative changes within the body that can affect your heart.

There are many good habits you can start now that give you stress relief to protect your heart. You can start an exercise program if you’re not already doing so. Exercising combats the way that stress affects the heart.  You might also want to try some meditation.

When you exercise, it lowers your blood pressure and can help eliminate the high influx of cortisol due to stressors. By exercising, you’ll be able to maintain a lowered heart rate, even when you do get stressed, so your heart won’t be working as hard.

Exercising will also help combat things like insomnia caused by stress so you get the sleep that your heart needs. It will also help you keep your weight at a healthy number so that you don’t increase your risk factors for heart disease.

Another way to introduce stress relief to improve heart health is to surround yourself with support. When you’re stressed, keeping everything that you’re feeling and thinking bottled up can raise your stress level and increases your chance of developing heart issues.

By talking to others, whether they’re family, friends or professionals, it can help you relieve the stress you’re going through. When you have this support system in place, it can help you steer clear of bad habits in response to stress.

If you’re experiencing stress, a way to reduce that stress is by addressing the issue head on. For example, if you’ve experienced a job loss and now you’re struggling with anxiety or depression or behavior that are unhealthy, then seek medical help so that you can alleviate how the stress is affecting your heart.

Black Coffee Rising as a Safeguard for Your Heart

If you’re like most people, you own a coffee maker. You may even own more than one type of coffee machine. Maybe you always felt a little guilty about your coffee habit, but there was no way you were giving it up.

You might have seen reports in the past that warned you about drinking coffee. These reports probably pointed to the caffeine in the beverage and advised that your health was better off without it.

Some of the warnings in the past suggested that drinking coffee could cause things like racing heart beats and elevated blood pressure. But a study has proven that this information isn’t correct.

If you’re someone who enjoys having a cup of black coffee, this habit is one that can actually improve the health of your heart. The study showed that rather than being bad for you, drinking black coffee has been linked to lowering the risk of heart failure.

So forget trying to cut back. In fact, the more black coffee that you drink – from two cups and up – the lower your risk is for developing a buildup in your heart’s arteries that will lead to poor heart health or potential heart attacks.

But there is a catch to this. You can’t drink decaf coffee and get the safeguard measures for your heart. The coffee you consume has to contain caffeine in order for you to gain this benefit, while decaf can be detrimental to your heart health.

A study showed that drinking decaf coffee can potentially cause heart related issues because decaf coffee can raise cholesterol. There was no definite proof involved in the study that compared the caffeine in coffee with whether the drink was warm or cold, but temperature changes do matter when it comes to the amount of caffeine the drink contains.

When hot water is used to make coffee, more caffeine is released into the brew than when cold water is used. The study also didn’t examine the type of coffee bean or the size or amount of grounds used to prepare the coffee.

However, the finer the grind, the more caffeine content you end up with in your coffee beverage. Though there has been some speculation concerning the color of grounds having more or less caffeine, the color of the coffee bean doesn’t matter nearly as much as the type of coffee bean when it comes to getting the caffeine benefits for your heart.

The caffeine differs depending on the type. For example, Robusta coffee is twice as strong in the caffeine department than Arabica is. This coffee is usually labeled as a strong coffee.

However, Arabica is the coffee bean that’s most often used by consumers. You can safely consume as much as five cups of coffee every day as a way to improve your heart’s health.

The best thing to remember when it comes to the health of your heart is that you need to do all you can to strengthen it while taking pressure off of it. You don’t want to wait until it’s in its most vulnerable and weakened state to commit to a health regimen for it.

Your heart is one of the most vital organs you have in your body. While you can’t see it operating, behind the scenes, it’s ensuring you’re capable of living life to its fullest. Make sure you do everything possible to treat it right and give it a chance to offer you the support you need to carry out your day.

Give yourself a baseline heart health test by checking your blood pressure, getting some tests done at the doctor’s office, and then seeing what you can do to make improvement from that point on.

To better heart health.

Fran Watson

 

About Fran Watson

Work from home Career Counsellor helping people with resumes, cover letters and interview tips. Recently published an e-book on Resumes and Cover Letters That Work (www.franwatson.ca). Member of Toastmasters and life-long learner.
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