How to Support Good Heart Health

February is Heart Health Month, so what better time to take stock of how you’re treating your ticker?

Poor heart health can seriously reduce a person’s quality of life, and making heart-healthy choices when young can help decrease your risk of problems. For folks who are a little older, it pays to be young at heart, and lifestyle and diet are key to heart health.

Heart-Healthy Choices

Some simple choices can make a massive difference to cardiovascular function. According to the American Heart Association and Harvard Medical School, a heart-healthy diet and lifestyle include [1]:

  • Exercising regularly
  • Eating a diet high in fibre
  • Reducing your intake of saturated fat
  • Avoiding trans fats
  • Reducing your intake of refined carbohydrates and sugar
  • Keeping sodium intake low
  • Getting enough sleep
  • Keeping avoidable stress to a minimum
  • Developing good coping strategies for unavoidable stress

With the above points in mind, here are four ways to help support good heart health:

1. Diet

Heart Healthy Diet

It’s important to remember that the heart is a muscle, and one of the most energy-hungry organs in the body. As such, your heart needs good fuel to keep it in fine fettle and can benefit from an intake of antioxidants to mop up those free radicals formed during normal metabolism.

A predominantly plant-based diet can provide a good intake of fibre, complex carbohydrates from whole grains, vegetables and fruits, lean protein, and healthy fats, including omega-3. This kind of diet helps support blood glucose regulation, healthy weight management, and normal inflammatory processes. It also offers antioxidants to tackle free radical damage.

A healthy diet, regular exercise, and stress management all help maintain blood pressure, cholesterol, and overall cardiovascular function. Keeping your sodium/potassium balance in check is also important for heart health. This means cutting down on added salt, checking that processed and packaged foods are low in sodium, and ensuring that you’re getting a good intake of foods that contain potassium, such as apricots, artichokes, bananas, and beans.

2. Stress

Stress Management

Practicing mindfulness and meditation, taking a yoga class or a long walk, or reading a good book can be healthy ways to manage stress. It’s certainly best to avoid using alcohol or other recreational drugs as ways to deal with stress. And, if you can tackle small sources of life stress now this can help reduce future stress! Your heart will thank you for it!

3. Supplements

Natural health products, such as Hawthorne and Omega-3 can help support heart health.

Hawthorn berries have traditionally been used in Herbal Medicine to help maintain and support cardiovascular health in adults [2]. When choosing a supplement, it’s a good idea to look for preparations standardized to a minimum of 0.93% oligomeric proanthocyanidins, which are believed to be the active constituents of hawthorn berries [2].

Health Canada recommends a daily intake of at least 200 mg of eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) to help support cardiovascular, while the American Heart Association recommends daily consumption of at least 1000 mg of omega-3, including long-chain fatty acids EPA and DHA [4] [5]. To lower triglycerides, the American Heart Association recommends 2–4 g of EPA plus DHA per day, provided as capsules under a physician’s care [6].

4. Exercise

Exercise

In terms of exercise, the American Heart Association recommends just 150 minutes of moderate exercise, or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise each week to help to keep your heart healthy. This might mean walking a half hour to or from work five days a week, going for a 50-minute bike ride three times a week, or, ideally, doing a combination of anaerobic and aerobic exercise such as lifting weights and joining a squash club.

References:

[1] American Heart Association. (2015). Diet and Lifestyle Recommendations. Accessed January 17, 2017. Available: http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/HealthyLiving/HealthyEating/Nutrition/The-American-Heart-Associations-Diet-and-Lifestyle-Recommendations_UCM_305855_Article.jsp#.WIei0_krK00

[2] ESCOP 2009: European Scientific Cooperative on Phytotherapy Scientific Committee. ESCOP Monographs: The Scientific Foundation for Herbal Medicinal Products, 2nd edition, Supplement 2009. Exeter (GB): European Scientific Cooperative on Phytotherapy in collaboration with Thieme.

[3] Degenring, F.H., Suter, A., Weber, M., Saller, R. (2003). A randomised double blind placebo controlled clinical trial of a standardised extract of fresh Crataegus berries (Crataegisan) in the treatment of patients with congestive heart failure NYHA II. Phytomedicine 10(5):363-369.

[4] World Health Organization. (2014). Global Recommendations for EPA and DHA Intake. Reviewed 16 April 2014. Accessed February 14, 2017. Available: www.goedomega3.com/index.php/files/download/304

[5] Health Canada. Compendium of Monographs. Hawthorn, Crataegus laevigata. Accessed February 14, 2017. Available: http://webprod.hc-sc.gc.ca/nhpid-bdipsn/atReq.do?atid=crataegus.laevigata

[6] American Heart Association. (2011). AHA Scientific Statement: Triglycerides and Cardiovascular Disease A Scientific Statement From the American Heart Association. Circulation, 123:00-00.