When it comes to heart health the food you eat can be a game changer. Even when there is a genetic link, the food you eat can make all the difference to your heart health outcomes. Functional foods, foods that don’t just taste good but have a specific function in your body can help you to improve your cholesterol, lower your blood pressure and reduce your homocysteine levels.
As much as I love food, and I really love food, there is more to heart health than food alone. Energy, herbs and lifestyle support play a huge role too. I spend a lot of time with my clients going through the various lifestyle changes that are needed to support their health goals.
Here are 5 changes to your lifestyle that can improve your heart health, even if you have a long family history of angina, atherosclerosis, diabetes, high blood pressure, heart attack or stroke:
1. Establish A Sleep Routine
The average adult needs 7-9 hours sleep. Many of us do not achieve this level of sleep, either because they struggle to stay asleep, often waking multiple times during the night or they have trouble falling asleep. Sleep is vital to heart health, if you regularly get a poor night sleep, you are at higher risk for cardiovascular disease and coronary heart disease — regardless of other risk factors like age, weight, smoking and exercise habits.
When we are tired our body craves simple carbohydrates, caffeine and sugar to get us through the day. These foods can drive insulin resistance and add to high blood pressure and inflammation that has long term negative effects on our heart health.
Setting a good sleep routine with simple habits such as going to bed and getting up at the same time each day will help you get the sleep you need.
2. Find A Way To De-stress
Chronic stress is a major driver of heart disease. When we are stressed we release a stress hormone called cortisol. The long-term effects of cortisol on the body include higher levels of triglycerides, blood cholesterol, blood sugar levels, and blood pressure. It can also promote the buildup of plaque in the arteries.
If you have a genetic component to your heart health, there is a high probability that you aren’t good at clearing your stress hormones. This means you need to get really good at managing your stress.
Deep breathing exercises, gardening, dancing, laughing, singing (even in the shower or car), journaling, chanting, a relaxing bath or walking in nature are all wonderful ways of releasing stress.
Be mindful not to rely on high intensity exercise such as running to relieve stress as this can increase cortisol levels, physical stress is stress too!
3. Detox Your Body
A buildup of toxins in your body can lead to poorer heart health outcomes from higher LDL cholesterol and low LDL cholesterol to blood pressure control issues.
Your liver is responsible for more than 500 functions in the body. It is responsible for the breakdown of cholesterol and triglycerides as well as hormones, toxins and medications. If you have heart health issues in your family, it may be due to poor liver function.
Supporting your liver with dark leafy green vegetables and liver supporting teas is one way you can improve your body’s ability to detox.
Your liver is not the only organ in the body that helps you to detox, your skin and kidneys also play a role. Through sweat, your body excretes toxins using an infrared or other sauna can help release toxins.
Your kidneys carry toxins out of your body in urine, making sure you have adequate water each day as well as balancing your salt and potassium intake can help to remove toxins and balance blood pressure.
4. Find Your Tribe
When it comes to relaxation, heart health and immune health, finding your tribe is important. Research shows that having a community improves our heart health outcomes and we cannot separate the importance of our sense of belonging from our physical well being. Conversely loneliness is associated with poor health outcomes.
Finding a community of like minded individuals through hobbies, interests or friendship groups can relieve stress and improve blood pressure.
5. Up The Intensity Of Your Exercise
As someone with a familial heart disease issue I have been very interested in the type of exercise that is needed to improve my health.
The recommended minimum amount of exercise required is 35 minutes 5 days a week or 20 minutes 7 days a week. Cardiovascular rehab programmes for those who have had a heart attack or stent operation also includes weight bearing exercises.
However as a preventative measure it is recommended that you exercise to a higher intensity for 45-1 hour 3-4 times a week e.g. HIIT class or Spin class along with weight lifting, weight bearing or resistance exercise.
If you have had a heart attack, stroke or surgery, check with your doctor before starting any exercise regime.
If you have a history of heart disease in your family or have an existing heart condition, your long term health is reliant on a sustainable nutrition approach together with appropriate lifestyle changes.
If you are ready to make sustainable changes to your diet and lifestyle to improve your heart health or balance your cholesterol, get in touch or visit the heart health programme page for more details.