Boost Your Heart Health in 6 Simple Steps
Published on Feb 18, 2020. Updated on Sep 15, 2020.
Making small lifestyle changes can provide substantial benefits for your Cardiovascular health. You might think that’s as obvious as night being followed by day, but you’d be surprised at how much trouble people can have implementing these small but necessary changes. In fact, health professionals and patients rely more on medication than lifestyle changes despite knowing well the benefits of lifestyle modifications.
It seems to be a commonly held view that changing your habits is unsustainable, but I refuse to accept this outcome! With adequate awareness and effective strategies, lifestyle modifications can be implemented and sustained relatively easily, with significant cardiovascular benefits.
If you or someone you know is looking to improve their heart health and general wellness, check out these six tips.
Dietary modifications to improve heart health
Let’s start with three simple strategies around food intake that you can implement right now to positively benefit your cardiovascular health.
Eat some chocolate
Now, this one should be easy! Who doesn’t like chocolate?
Besides being one of the world’s premier sources of deliciousness, cocoa beans seem to provide cardiovascular benefits. A study concluded that chocolate consumption appears to reduce cardiovascular disease, in part by reducing blood pressure.
The flavonoids present in cocoa have antioxidant properties and also decrease blood cholesterol and blood pressure. When processed, cocoa can lose some of its flavonoids, so including some dark chocolate (which is less processed) in your diet is a good idea. Try not to overindulge: overconsumption of chocolate can contribute extra calories, and if this results in weight gain, it can have negative consequences for your cardiovascular health.
Moderation seems to play a big factor here. One ounce of chocolate several times a week might be a good general rule to follow. Not too bad, right?
Minimize added sugar
Added sugar has been associated with increase in blood lipids, which can be a risk factor for cardiovascular disease. Added sugar, especially in the form of soft beverages, can contribute excess calories which can lead to weight gain in the long run. The American Heart Association recommends less than 100 calories from sugar for women, and less than 150 calories for men. For context, a single gram of sugar contains 4 calories.
Keeping added sugar to a minimum doesn’t mean you need to completely give up delicious foods. You can still enjoy fruits and vegetables which can provide positive benefits for cardiovascular health. Six servings of fruits and vegetables is a good number to try to hit daily.
Eat yummy nuts!
Nuts as a part of a balanced diet can improve blood lipid levels especially for people who have high LDL (low-density lipoproteins). Incorporating some of these yummy treats daily can help improve your cardiovascular health.
Nuts are fatty and consequently higher in calories; as with chocolate, overconsumption can lead to weight gain. Eaten in moderation, nuts can provide positive cardiovascular health benefits.
Keep your heart in shape with exercise
Physical activity is one of the best ways to improve cardiovascular health. Here are three simple approaches I recommend if you’re looking to incorporate physical activity into your routine.
Low-intensity physical activity
Never underestimate the power of Low Intensity Physical Activity (LIPA): walking, climbing stairs, swimming, working around the house are all great examples.
For people pursuing sedentary occupations (that includes studying at a desk all day!), adding three 10-minute sessions of stair walks per week (so 30 minutes total) with colleagues improved cardiovascular health. Low-intensity exercises also provide a low barrier to start getting active—for many people, high-intensity activity can be intimidating, especially starting out.
With LIPA, every step counts: even five to 10 minutes of low-intensity activity performed daily can improve cardiovascular health.
Interval training is where you perform a series of exercises at varying levels of intensity at different intervals. These workouts are particularly effective for people who claim to hate exercise. They’re so simple, it barely feels like you’re working out at all!
A simple example of interval training could be 5–10 sessions of walking for three minutes at a fast pace, followed at three more minutes at a slower pace. The intervals can be longer or shorter, depending on your preference. You can also use interval training with several modes of exercise, including swimming, biking, jogging, and so on.
With interval training, the sky's the limit on the variety you can use!
Circuit training relies on performing several exercises with little to no rest in between. It’s probably the easiest way to introduce high intensity training in your workout regime, and it’s been demonstrated to improve your cardiovascular health. There are several ways of performing circuit training, and it can be performed with little to no equipment.
Body weight exercises are an example of no-equipment circuit training. A simple body weight circuit could include five 30-second rounds of squat jumps, push-ups, jumping jacks, running in place, and crunches. There is generally no rest in between exercises and appropriate rest (30 seconds to a minute) at the end of each circuit. All aspects of the circuit can be modified to fit your preference: the key is to be active.
Rubber/ elastic bands, light dumbbells, kettlebells are all effective ways to incorporate low-cost resistance into your workout regimen and supplement your body weight-based workouts.
Show your heart some love today
So, there you have it! Six simple ways to eat and work-out your way to a healthier, happier heart. This is by no means an exhaustive list, but rather, a simple way to jump in and get going. Once you add these lifestyle modifications into your routine, you can continue to build on your efforts, and work towards improving and maintaining your cardiovascular health and your overall quality of life, too.
Ishan Dahal is Osmosis's health and wellness coach. When he's not working out with his Osmosis teammates or brushing up on health and wellness literature, he's spending time with his family, going on long walks with an audio-book, or contemplating what vegetables will he get next week.
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