6 Things You Should Be Doing to Keep Your Heart Healthy

A heart attack occurs when a coronary blood vessel – or a vessel that supplies the heart with blood – becomes blocked, thus stopping blood flow to the heart. The heart loses its oxygen supply, which damages the heart muscle and can potentially be a fatal medical emergency. According to statistics from The Heart Foundation, heart attack took an average of 22 lives per day in Australia in 2016. That’s a total of 8,011 lives that year.

The good news is that those numbers are actually the lowest that they have been in a decade, going down by 30% since 2007. Efforts to educate the public in understanding risk factors and making lifestyle changes to prevent heart attack are working. Here are six things you should be doing to keep your heart healthy and prevent heart attack.

1 – Switch up your diet

A recent study analysed data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey and discovered that 45% of over 700,000 deaths in 2012 were related to eating foods detrimental to heart health, with emphasis on processed meats and sugar-sweetened beverages.

Eating calorie-heavy foods increases your risk for obesity. When you consume more calories than your body can burn, the body stockpiles it as fat. Fatty plaques are deposited in your blood vessels, raising blood pressure and clogging your arteries, putting you on the fast track to heart attack.

Be heart-healthy: Eat a heart-healthy diet. Cut down on the proven culprits of heart disease: red meat, high-sodium foods, and sweets. Slowly make the switch to whole foods – fresh fruits, raw vegetables, whole grains, and good fatty acids like omega-3 from fish.  

2 – Engage in exercise

Engage in aerobic exercise, which is best for the heart as it encourages better circulation and oxygenation, while also lowering blood pressure. Athletic people develop stronger heart muscles than most, resulting in lower heart rates as the heart no longer needs to work so hard to supply blood to the entire body. Aerobic exercise also burns fat deposits and plaques in your blood vessels, reducing your risk for heart attack.

Supplement aerobic exercise with resistance training to avoid obesity by changing body composition from fat to muscle mass.

Be heart-healthy: Engage in moderate aerobic exercise like running, cycling, swimming, boxing, and other sports that get your heart racing. Aim for a minimum of 30 minutes per day, for at least five days a week. For resistance training, use weights or perform body resistance exercises at least twice a week on non-consecutive days.

3 – Stay away from stress

When you’re under stress, your adrenal glands release cortisol, the stress hormone. Cortisol triggers the fight-or-flight response, which increases your mental alertness and physical performance in order to cope with the stressor. Incidentally, this chain of events also raises heart rate and blood pressure to ensure your body is supplied with blood and oxygen during the ordeal.

The stress response is beneficial in occasional doses, but chronic stress means your body is primed for danger 100% of the time. Keeping your heart on constant high alert eventually causes damage to your heart and blood vessels.

Not to mention, people under stress tend to take on other unhealthy behaviours – like smoking, drinking, not getting enough sleep, and stress eating – which contribute to the risk for heart attack.

Be heart-healthy: Cling even harder to healthy habits when under stress! Get enough sleep, hydrate, exercise and consume healthy, sustaining foods. Avoid smoking or drinking – instead, find a healthy stress management technique that works for you. That could be anything from yoga and meditation to an exhilarating exercise session to release the tension. In the long run, you might want to consider leaving a high-pressure environment to preserve your heart health.

4 – Kick bad habits

Smoking causes a combination of ruinous effects on your cardiovascular system. Nicotine damages the lining of your blood vessels, making them weaker, stiffer, and more prone to plaque buildup. This predisposes you to a number of cardiovascular conditions, including heart attack and even stroke. Carbon monoxide in the smoke you inhale competes with oxygen in your blood, so there’s less oxygen to go around. The heart compensates by pumping harder to supply the body with adequate oxygen, and that overworks the heart over time.

Meanwhile, aside from its devastating effects on your liver, drinking alcohol increases your blood cholesterol level. High cholesterol levels mean a greater chance of plaque adhering to your blood vessels. This increases your risk for blockages and clots, making you more prone to heart attacks as well.

Be heart-healthy: Quit, quit quit! Reduce your risk for heart attack drastically by kicking the smoking habit. For non-smokers, secondhand smoke is even more dangerous than smoking, so if someone in your life is a smoker, encourage them to quit to save both of your lives. As for alcohol consumption, the National Health and Medical Research Council recommends that you limit yourself to only two standard alcoholic drinks per day.

5 – Stick to your meds

Maintenance medicines are there for a reason, they’re not just some pharmaceutical agenda. They are prescribed for chronic conditions that require daily medication to keep symptoms at bay,  for disease like diabetes, hypertension, and high cholesterol levels.

It’s vital that you take medications every day as ordered. Don’t stop taking the medications even when you feel relieved of your symptoms – you feel well precisely because you’re taking the medications every day! Stopping them abruptly can cause symptoms to return with a vengeance, and precipitate rather than prevent a heart attack.

Supplement, but never wholly trade in your maintenance medications for alternative therapies. Alternative medicine is great, but should never be a substitute for legitimate medical attention. If you plan on adding alternative modalities to your treatment regimen, consult your doctor first to prevent drug interactions.

Be heart-healthy: Stick to your maintenance regimen faithfully. As much as possible, don’t skip doses or let your prescription run out. Speak to your doctor and arrange a new regimen if you’re having trouble adhering to your prescription due to financial or logistical reasons.

Take care when supplementing with alternative medicines – if you’re on a natural living kick, know that shifting to a diet of whole foods to supplement your treatment regimen will be much better than jumping on questionable “natural” medications.

6 – Constant vigilance!

Just as cars need regular tune-ups, see your doctor regularly to keep abreast on your heart health. Every six months is recommended, but if you have existing heart conditions, visit your doctor more often. Don’t put off your follow-up visits. The earlier you catch changes in your condition, the sooner you can receive treatment.

Along with your checkups, get tested regularly as well for blood sugar levels and cholesterol levels.

Be mindful of your health at home too. Keep logs of your diet and exercise, and monitor your weight. Invest in a blood pressure monitor and take your blood pressure every day at home. Note when it rises and compare it against your log – what were you doing when your blood pressure spiked, what had you eaten, etc. Taking note of this information between visits will help your doctor form a clearer picture of your overall heart health.

Be heart-healthy: Be honest with your doctor about your symptoms and any changes you experience. Ask them questions about your heart directly. Don’t just rely on what Google told you at home, because your health is nuanced and unique to you. Be a more active participant in keeping your own heart healthy.

Article written by Reina Bambao.

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