Odds are you know someone who has had issues with their heart health. In fact, heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women in the United States. You may be thinking, “I’m young, no need to worry yet!” And although you’re right: the majority of heart health issues occur in older populations, it’s never too early to take care of your heart and assure your ticker keeps ticking well into old age.
First of all, let’s take a second to appreciate just how amazing the heart is:
- The average heart beats 100,000 times per day – pumping 2,000 gallons of blood.
- Your blood vessels form a circulation highway that’s approximately 60,000 miles long.
- Make a fist. That’s approximately the size of your heart.
Can you imagine jump-roping 100,000 skips per day? Me either. Especially without proper preparation and care. The same goes for your heart! To keep pumping away properly it needs special attention. Kind of like a car needs regular maintenance to run smoothly.
So what’s this maintenance look like for your heart?
Fueling A Happy Heart
- Red and ripe. Many red foods get their color from two antioxidants: Lycopene and Anthocyanin. Lycopene protects the heart against damage and Anthocyanin reduces inflammation, which is thought to be one of the root causes of heart disease. Snack on foods like watermelon, tomatoes, red cherries, red grapes, and berries.
- Proper portions. Pay attention to how much you’re eating. Going back for seconds every time or eating until you’re stuffed is a sure-fire way to load up on too many calories. Practice mindful eating: don’t do anything except EAT when you sit down for a meal. Distraction oftentimes leads to overeating and a less enjoyable experience (and who doesn’t want to enjoy their food?)
- Forget fats… but not all of them! Saturated and trans fats are the two pesky types you want to avoid. Saturated fats become solid at room temperature, think: butter, margarine, and other animal fats. Trans fats typically are added to foods through industrial processes, although they can sometimes occur naturally. Look out for these no-good fats in baked goods, snack foods, fried foods, cookie dough, and other highly processed “food.”
- Fats that we love… are monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, which can be found in olive oil, fish, avocados, nuts, and seeds. You still don’t want to go totally overboard with these, but incorporating them into your daily diet makes for a happy heart.
- Reduce sodium intake. A diet high in sodium can contribute to high blood pressure, a risk factor for cardiovascular disease. Shoot for no more than 2,300 mg a day. PS: sodium is sneaky. Although some of it comes from adding salt to your already cooked food, a lot of it is found in processed and canned goods – soups, vegetables, sauces, etc.
- Eat these! If you want to keep your ticker ticking, these foods will help: salmon, oatmeal, blueberries, dark chocolate, citrus, potatoes, tomatoes, olive oil, red wine, green tea, broccoli, coffee, flax seed, and avocado. There are plenty more densely nutritious heart-healthy foods out there – these are just a start.
But What Can You DO?
- Sit less. Remaining sedentary throughout the day can have drastically negative effects on your health. If you’re a student or have a full-time job that requires lots of sit-time, try to get up and walk around every 30 minutes. A lot of businesses these days have standing desks and walk stations (treadmills attached to desks) – use your resources!
- Move more. A study conducted at Harvard looked at young adults, physical activity, and heart health. They found that, “Each extra minute participants lasted during the treadmill test as young adults was linked to a 12 percent lower risk of cardiovascular disease and 15 percent lower odds of death by the end of the study period.” You don’t have to be a marathon runner or an Olympian, simply get moving.
- Butt out. About 30% of all heart disease deaths are directly related to smoking cigarettes. If you’ve caught the habit, it’s time to quit.
- Aim for 7… hours of sleep. A study published in Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis and Vascular Biology, found that young and middle aged adults who slept 7 hours a night had less calcium in their arteries (early sign of heart disease) than those who slept 5 hours or less or 9 hours or more. Sleep quality also plays a role in heart health. Ways to get better sleep: limit screen time prior to bed, cut caffeine intake before lunch, and form a bedtime routine that you stick to each night.
- Snip stress. Stress can contribute to high blood pressure and cholesterol levels – both factors that impact your heart health. Do more of what you love and focus only on issues you can control – not the ones that are out of your hands. Can seem to ditch the stress? It might be time to talk to a professional – which is totally normal, and extremely beneficial.
- What’s the deal with cholesterol? The higher your blood cholesterol – the more plaque build up that occurs in your artery walls. Keep cholesterol low by eating well and staying active (I sense a trend here…)
- Hello Doc. By your early to mid-30s, you should have some basic numbers run by your doc: blood pressure, lipids, bad and good cholesterol and diabetes marker – to get a baseline and watch for funky numbers.
- Find out family history. If someone in your family has suffered from ill heart health in the past, it can drastically increase your risk. Worried? Take Mayo Clinic’s Heart Disease Risk Calculator: http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/heart-disease/in-depth/heart-disease-risk/itt-20084942 and talk to your doctor.
Taking care of your heart isn’t all that complicated. Eat real, clean, and whole food. Move your body. Laugh more, stress less, and get quality sleep. The answers to a happy heart are the same for a happy, healthy life.