5 Powerful Ways to Improve your Heart Health Naturally
As a medical professional, you’re most likely aware that preventing heart disease comes down, for the most part, to our lifestyle. This means we have the power to improve our odds of leading a healthy, happy, and long life. Small changes in the way we live, particularly our nutrition and exercise regimen, have been proven to dramatically decrease heart disease risk factors, regulate plaques in the arteries to reduce the possibility of them bursting, turning into blood clots, and blocking the blood flow, all elements that may lead to a heart attack. Not only that, but healthy adjustments can even overturn the progression of atherosclerosis or coronary artery disease. Since February is American Heart Health Month, it’s the perfect occasion to learn about and focus on your cardiovascular health as well as the steps you can take to help your heart. Here are 5 powerful ways to improve your heart health naturally.
- Less sitting and more moving
Being physically active has been proven time and time again to have profound health benefits, including good heart health. Regular exercise is one of the most effective ways to strengthen your heart muscle, maintain a healthy weight, and prevent the artery damage that can occur due to high blood sugar, high cholesterol, as well as high blood pressure -all leading causes of heart stroke. Moreover, physical activity can keep a lid on your stress, improve your sleep, strengthen your bones, and boost your chances of living longer. With that said, optimal heart health requires different types of exercise, with aerobic exercise, resistance training, and building flexibility being the most important forms of physical activity to pursue. Although stretching and flexibility don’t directly contribute to improving your heart health, they are recommended since they represent the foundation for performing the other exercises.
What aerobic exercise does: aerobics improve circulation which results in reduced blood pressure and regulated heart rate. In addition to that, it boosts your aerobic fitness as well as how efficiently your heart pumps or your cardiac output. Cardiorespiratory exercise also lowers the risk of developing diabetes type 2, and in case you already live with this health condition, aerobics will assist your body in controlling blood glucose.
How long: ideally 30 minutes a day for five days a week, though you can go as high as 60 or 90 minutes. You should also aim to switch between moderate-intensity and vigorous-intensity exercise.
Examples: these include running, cycling, swimming, jogging, jumping rope, and playing tennis.
- Resistance training
What resistance training does: strength work or resistance training has a more targeted impact on body composition. This is especially helpful for people who carry a lot of body fat, which is a known risk factor for heart disease. This type of physical activity can regulate the fat-to-muscle ratio, reducing fat and producing a leaner muscle mass. Studies have proven that a combination of resistance training and aerobics can lower bad cholesterol (LDL) and enhance good cholesterol (HDL).
How long: ideally two to three times a week of full-body resistance training according to the American College of Sports Medicine.
Examples: exercising using free weights, this includes dumbbells, barbells, kettlebells, etc, resistance bands, weight machines, or resistance-based exercises like push-ups, pull-ups, squats, etc.
What flexibility and stretching do: flexibility and balance workouts, like stretching, don’t have a direct impact on your heart health. They’re mainly beneficial to your musculoskeletal well-being. This is what allows you to stay flexible and what prevents you from developing muscular issues such as cramping and joint pain. The flexibility that you develop is crucial to performing resistance and aerobic exercises. So if you have a reliable musculoskeletal foundation, you will be able to do the physical activities your heart health requires. You also benefit from enhanced balance and stability, which can prevent falls and by extension injuries that could potentially limit your workouts.
How long: stretching exercises are a must before and after your workout sessions to improve your flexibility and ability to move more freely.
Examples: you can find basic stretches either on YouTube or on some fitness-based blogs to help you get started. Yoga is a form of physical activity that can allow you to improve those skills and gain more flexibility.
- Aim for losing belly fat
As your body weight increases, so does the risk of plaque building up in your arteries (and subsequently a heart attack). Having an unhealthily high BMI (body mass index) has been proven to contribute to several heart disease risk factors, namely type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and bad cholesterol. Moreover, obesity can lead to heart failure. This is a critical condition in which the heart becomes unable to pump the amount of blood required to meet your body’s needs. Numerous studies have found that belly fat, in particular, can be dangerous even in people who have a pot belly but otherwise have a normal weight. The fat in your stomach pumps out substances such as cytokines that can cause chronic inflammation all across your body. This is a major issue especially because chronic inflammation is one of the leading factors that link obesity with a higher risk of developing dangerous conditions, including heart disease. So your goal for February Heart Health Month is to shed that belly fat through a consistent combination of exercise and a balanced and diverse diet.
Target lowering your Non-HDL cholesterol
LDL cholesterol, often known as bad cholesterol, was thought, for years, to be the main treatment target for reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease. While that still stands true, as improving LDL levels is essential, there is a growing consensus that non-HDL cholesterol levels can be a better predictor to heart disease risk. This is because non-HDL cholesterol does not only consist of LDL but also of other harmful particles that play a role in cholesterol-filled plaques building up in your artery walls. As a good rule of thumb, people who suffer from coronary artery disease should aim to lower their non-HDL cholesterol to 80 or below. On the other hand, healthy individuals who simply aim to prevent heart disease should aim to lower it to 100 or below.
- Regulate your blood pressure
As a medical professional, you know that the higher the blood pressure is, the greater the risk of heart attack, stroke, kidney disease, impairment of mental function, and more. In the past, blood pressure readings equal to or above 140/80 were thought to be the threshold for increased risk of cardiovascular disease. Now, that limit has been redefined to 130 for systolic blood pressure and 80 for diastolic blood pressure, so 130/80. Key guidelines to regulate your blood pressure include:
- Consuming from five to thirteen servings of fruits and vegetables per day. A rich diet helps ensure that your body is getting enough nutrients. When you eat high-volume low-calorie foods like fruits and vegetables, this will boost your weight-loss efforts. Losing fat and excess weight (as mentioned previously) is one of the most effective ways to regulate blood pressure.
- Cutting back on processed as well as calorie-dense foods loaded with sugar, fat, and refined grains.
- Limiting your consumption of salt. The Centers for Disease Control and American Heart Association recommend a limit of no more than 1,500 milligrams of sodium daily for adults.
- Limit alcohol intake to two drinks or one per day -above 3 has been shown to increase the risk of high blood pressure.
Learn better stress management strategies
When life’s complications get the best of us, this can lead to nefarious health consequences from hypertension to irritable bowel syndrome. Studies have shown how interlaced stress and heart disease can be. Any strenuous outside stressors can double the incidence of heart attacks. Not only that but stress can also result in bad coping habits like smoking, resorting to comfort food (which is often unhealthy), skipping exercise, etc, the type of behavior that can increase the risk of heart disease. We recommend working on implementing healthier coping mechanisms and improving your stress management through restorative sleep, a balanced diet, and a good exercise regimen. As a medical professional, you’re in scrubs all day, you’re often overwhelmed, and you most likely don’t have the time to make big lifestyle changes. With that said, even something as small as taking ten minutes out of your day, or work break, to simply relax, take your scrub hat off, do some breathing exercises, or some positive visualization can really shift your mood and attenuate the levels of stress you’re undergoing.
Lifestyle changes, no matter how small, can build up and lead to a happier and healthier life, you just have to be willing to take the first step -then keep the momentum afterwards. As you begin to implement these changes, make sure you listen to your body’s signals and take a break when you need one! In doing so, you will not only work to improve your heart health but your overall physical and mental well-being too.