Written by Timothy Okooboh
Every organ in the body is important but the heart is undoubtedly one of the most (if not the most) important organ in the body. As the pumping station of the body, the heart is responsible for pumping blood which delivers oxygen and nutrients to every part of the body.
Oxygen and nutrients are essential to life, therefore the heart is essential to life. If the heart stops beating, the individual starts dying. Any problem to the heart poses a threat to existence and quality of life. Therefore, it is very important to be aware of some medically proven simple tips to keep your heart healthy.
1. Exercise regularly.
Exercise or physical activity is the best medicine for your heart. The heart is a muscle. And just like other muscles, the heart becomes stronger and healthier with regular exercise.
In 2004, Hambrecht R. et al published a fascinating research which showed that regular exercise is better than heart surgery for preventing heart attack in patients with coronary artery disease. In that research, 101 men with coronary artery disease were divided into two groups. One group underwent a type of heart surgery called Percutaneous Coronary Intervention (PCI) to remove the blockade in the heart’s arteries, while participants of the second group were given an exercise bike to be ridden for 20 minutes daily plus 60 minutes group session once a week. After one year, the researchers looked at how many of those people experienced a cardiovascular event such as heart attack or death from heart disease. Of those who underwent PCI, 30% experienced a cardiovascular event while 12% of those who exercised daily experienced a cardiovascular event.
Therefore, the research showed that exercise is better than PCI for preventing a heart attack.
So what is exercise? Well, exercise is not all about what you do at the gym. Exercise is anything that makes you move! Lol. Did you know that leading a sedentary lifestyle is twice as deadly as being obese? Exercise includes walking to the nearby grocery store instead of driving, walking up the stairs instead of using the lift, washing your clothes with your hands instead of using the washing machine, jugging, dancing to your favorite music, etc.
So start exercising today and give your heart (life) the protection it deserves!
2. Eat healthy fats.
Did you know that there are healthy fats and unhealthy fats? Healthy fats increase good cholesterol (HDL) and decrease bad cholesterol (LDL) thus are good for your heart, while unhealthy fats do the opposite and are bad for your health as they increase the risk of heart disease.
The good fats are polyunsaturated fatty acids such as fish oils (omega-3 fatty acids) and monounsaturated fatty acids such as vegetable oil, olive oil, and peanut oil.
The unhealthy fats are saturated fats such as butter, margarine, shortenings, fat in meats and trans fats such as fats in fried foods, cakes, snacks, and canned foods.
NB: The healthy fats are liquids at room temperature while most of the unhealthy fats are solids at room temperature. Hence, start replacing solid fats with liquid fats.
Trans fats are the most dangerous type of fats. Hence, it is generally recommended by cardiologists that we EAT lots of healthy fats ( monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats) which are usually liquids at room temperature, REDUCE consumption of saturated fats and AVOID trans fats.
3. Manage stress properly.
Kivimaki et al., 2002 showed that highly stressed workers have a twofold risk of dying from a heart disease compared to low-stress workers.
While it may not be so easy to reduce stress especially because of factors such as the nature of our jobs and daily traffic on the roads, it is easier to manage stress properly. Your reaction to stress, rather than stress itself, determines to a large extent, the impact stress will have on your health.
You can manage stress properly by still eating healthy foods instead of junk foods, sleeping for 7-8 hrs daily, going out for a daily walk, meditation, yoga, going out to the movies, etc.
The secret to managing stress is to not allow stress prevent you from doing your normal daily healthy activities. This will help neutralize the toxic effect of stress on your health.
4. Have a good quality sleep.
Research has shown that the optimum number of hours for good quality sleep is 7-8 hours daily. Too little sleep (<5hrs daily) and too much sleep (>9hrs daily) is bad for heart health.
But how does too little or too much sleep affect heart health? Too little sleep increases stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline. Chronic stress as a result of regular short sleep duration causes accumulation of these stress hormones which leads to anxiety, depression and heart disease. Too much sleep causes overweight or obesity which leads to metabolic abnormalities such as prediabetes and increases the risk of heart disease.
5. Harness the benefits of the Mediterranean diet.
The Mediterranean diet has been shown to highly reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. It is one of the most healthy eating patterns globally. It is a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, fish, olive oil, nuts, beans, and whole grains while limiting sugar, red meat, and dairy products.
6. A handful of nuts and dark chocolates daily.
Nuts such as peanuts and walnuts have been shown to lower risk of heart disease, prevent diabetes and promote health. According to Dr. Karol Watson, a cardiologist at UCLA Health, an ounce of nuts a day (equal to a handful) gives these benefits. Nuts are rich in polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats.
Also, chocolates especially dark chocolates, are rich in resveratrol, cocoa, and epicatechins which are known to lower blood pressure and improve vascular function. Therefore enjoy a few dark chocolates regularly to promote heart health.
7. Quit smoking and consume alcohol moderately.
The importance of quitting smoking and avoidance or moderate consumption of alcohol on overall health and wellbeing cannot be overemphasized. Therefore, It is no surprise that tobacco smoking and excess alcohol consumption are bad for heart health as they increase the risk of coronary artery disease, diabetes, lung disease, kidney problems, and cancer.
8. Know your numbers.
By knowing your numbers, I am not talking about your bank account or phone number, lol. But I’m talking about your blood pressure, blood glucose, and cholesterol levels.
By regularly checking these values, you have an overall view of the state of your heart and health in general. These values can be conveniently checked at home or better still at the local pharmacy where the pharmacist can as well provide appropriate counseling and referral to a cardiologist when necessary.
So that’s it, basic medically proven tips for a healthy heart! Kindly drop your comments below and help share this article.