Ah, Valentine’s Day! The day we celebrate love all around the world. The truth is, whether you have a significant other or not, one of the most important relationships you can foster is the one you have with your heart. That’s right, your heart. We tend to romanticize the heart. Often, we animate it, or cartoon it up, but in reality, the heart is, well, the heart of each of us. This not particularly pretty beat keeper is responsible for our vitality throughout an entire lifetime. No easy feat! Isn’t it about time we pay it homage with some essential ways we can keep it happy for a very long time?
MOVE TO YOUR OWN BEAT
It can’t be stated enough. Movement is the antidote to stagnation. Just as a river flows, so too should the human body. In order for our heart to stay healthy, exercise is not just a recommendation, it’s a necessity. Now don’t feel that means you have to sign up for a marathon or go on 10-k hikes 3 times a week. Studies have shown that even moving a little bit each day can result in lower mortality rates: “mortality risk reduction appears with even small bouts of daily exercise”. That’s good news for those of us who tend to be more sedentary in our day-to-day. The key is making sure to get out for a daily walk, opting for the stairs when you can, and finding activities that are both fun and beneficial to your heart such as bowling, dancing, swimming, to name just a few.
EAT WELL, LIVE LONG
By now we are well aware of the multitude of benefits a healthy diet can provide. Including heart-healthy foods in your meals can help your heart stay in perfect form by keeping bad cholesterol down, ensuring that arterial plaque does not build up. According to a report by the World Heart Federation, some of the top food choices for a happy heart are fish, nuts, fruits, and vegetables.
“Fatty fish, such as salmon, sardines, trout, white tuna, anchovies, and herring, have the highest concentrations... (of) long-chain omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids” which have been shown to reduce several risk factors that lead to CVD (cardiovascular disease).
Nuts have also been proven to lower CHD (Coronary heart disease) as well as the risk of hypertension So when you feel like a snack that fills those hunger pangs, reach for a handful of walnuts, almonds, pecans, or hazelnuts, instead of those go-to potato chips which are high in sodium, a known no-no for your heart.
There is strong evidence to support the claim that a “high consumption of vegetables and fruits reduces CHD”. A study published in The Journal of Epidemiology showed that the following fruits and vegetables supplied the best benefits for the heart: pears, oranges and other citrus fruits, apples, green leafy vegetables, green beans, carrots, and peppers as well as cruciferous vegetables.
GET THOSE 40 WINKS
A good night’s sleep is one of the best ways to keep a heart happy and healthy. Sleep loss is an all-too-common fact nowadays. People in Western countries sleep an average of 6.8 hours per night. That is 1.5 hours less than a hundred years ago. These reduced sleeping patterns have been studied and “recent epidemiological studies have revealed relationships between sleep deprivation and hypertension (HT), coronary heart disease (CHD)”, to name just a couple of the adverse effects.
Try integrating a few sleep-inducing actions into your bedtime routine. Sip on some chamomile tea, put electronics to bed 30 minutes before your set bedtime, and only engage in soothing activities before your head hits the pillow, such as reading, meditating, or listening to soothing music.
Studies have shown that along with genetics and age, stress is also an important factor when it comes to cardiovascular health. The good news, however, is that stress can be modifiable, unlike genetics and age, which cannot be modified. “...formal psychotherapy, psychotropic medications, time management training, progressive relaxation training, meditation, or regular exercise… improve patients’ morale and functioning and decrease suffering”.
So, at the risk of sounding redundant, exercising and meditating are two of your heart’s greatest allies, not only for their obvious health benefits but for their destressing attributes as well. If stress has got you turning a vicious circle, get up, get outside and take a walk. Alternatively, take a short meditation break. You might just be amazed at how little effort it takes and how much better you’ll feel.
No, we’re not talking about the dance move but of the one small daily action that your dentist always recommends – flossing your teeth at least once a day. According to epidemiologic studies, a “potential link does exist between PD (periodontal disease) and CVD (cardiovascular disease). This is good news because your dentist and/or dental hygienist can often identify a potential heart problem just by examining your gums. Flossing not part of your routine? Help your brain make it part of your routine. Set a timer every day as a gentle reminder. Choose a floss you like, maybe mint-flavored. Reward yourself every time you do it, for example, just before that highly-anticipated first cup of coffee.
So, this Valentine’s Day, show your heart some love. After all, it’s the longest and most valuable relationship you’ll ever have.