16 Heart-Healthy Rules to Live By

Happy Valentine’s Day everyone! Today, we are going to focus on our wonderful hearts. Our heart is our life source, and its beat keeps us dancing to the rhythm of life! Today, we have the opportunity to express our hearts by recognizing and celebrating those that we love. We also have the opportunity to care for our own hearts, not only in a spiritual & emotional sense, but also physically. Your heart is of deep value, and we want to share with you how to keep it strong & healthy by making simple dietary and lifestyle changes that will go a long way in reducing your risk of heart disease. Did you know that your heart beats 100,000 times a day? That’s why it’s so important to keep it healthy & strong! You can start by concentrating on key lifestyle areas such as eating, exercise and smoking and considering other factors like family history, diabetes and stress. Here are 16 rules to follow for a healthy heart:

1) Opt for Whole Grains over Refined Grains

Anything in whole-grain “kernel” form, including whole-grain wheat flour, brown rice, oatmeal, quinoa, and buckwheat, is a heart-healthier choice than refined products such as white bread, white rice, and sweets such as donuts, muffins, and cookies. If you don’t have the whole grain, you’re just left with the starch inside that kernel, and not the fiber and other nutrients that play a role in regulating blood pressure and lowering cholesterol. The fiber in whole grains will also keep you feeling more full & help reduce the number of calories you eat—also a good thing for the heart.

2) Eat Healthy Fats

 Salmon and tuna, among other oily fish, along with nuts and seeds such as chia, cashews, and walnuts, contain omega-3 fatty acids that keep the heart running like a well-oiled machine. Omega-3s have been found to lower the risk of heart disease by reducing blood pressure and cholesterol levels and slowing down the build-up of plaque and blood clots, which can clog up the arteries. It’s also important that we limit the amount of saturated and trans fat that we consume. When you are cooking, replace shortening, lard or margarine with oils that contain healthy fats such as canola, extra virgin olive, avocado and soybean. It’s also important to choose non-fat or low-fat dairy products or opt for alternatives such as almond or soy milk.

 3) Get your Cholesterol Tested & Monitor your Blood Pressure Regularly

Too much cholesterol—a wax-like substance that circulates throughout the body—can lead to the hardening of the arteries, heart disease, and a greater risk of a heart attack. Yet you can have high cholesterol and never know it. The same goes with high blood pressure. So don’t wait for warning signs or symptoms. In order to keep cholesterol levels in check, the latest Canadian Cholesterol Guidelines recommend cholesterol testing every 1-3 years for:

  • men 40 years of age and older and women 50 years of age and older
  • people with diabetes, high blood pressure or atherosclerosis
  • people who are overweight or obese (BMI of 27 or higher)
  • smokers
  • people with a strong family history of heart disease

Visiting your doctor for regular check up’s and giving your blood pressure a quick check anytime you visit your local Shoppers Drug Mart is a good idea. Learn about ways to lower both your cholesterol and blood pressure if either of these are a problem.

4) Limit Intake of High Fat Meats & Increase Plant-based Proteins

Choose protein foods that come from plants more often. A heart-healthy diet should include plant-based proteins, such as beans, lentils, nuts, seeds, mushrooms, kale, broccoli, and so forth. Plant-based proteins can provide more fibre and less saturated fat than other types of protein foods, which can be beneficial for your heart health. When eating meat, do so in moderation and limit yourself to lean meats. Pay close attention to the kind of meat you eat, by giving preference to poultry such as chicken or turkey, over a sirloin steak, as red meats are higher in saturated fat and cholesterol. Eggs are also a great source of protein.

5) Check your Waistline – Maintain a Healthy Weight

Studies have shown that your waist will tell you more about your heart than your BMI or your weight. A large waist can put you at a higher risk for heart disease. Losing weight around your waist can be the first step towards a healthy heart. The best way to do this is to eat healthy and stay active throughout the day. Take the stairs instead of the elevator, avoid sitting for long hours, opt for a standing desk, cook at home instead of going out for dinner, drink plenty of water, and so forth. All these little things can make a huge difference in the long run!

 6) Practice Portion Control

What you eat is irrelevant if you don’t eat it in proper proportions. Use smaller plates to help you keep a check on your portions. The best way to do this is to eat larger portions of low calorie nutritious food like fresh fruits and vegetables and take small portions of high-calorie foods rich in lean protein. This strategy can shape up your diet as well as your heart and waistline.

7) Exercise Daily

Get your heart pumping! Adults ages 18-64 should participate in at least 30 minutes of moderate-vigorous (aerobic) physical activity at least 5 times a week to help stave off heart disease. Regular physical activity will help to strengthen your heart, burn off fat, manage your weight and improve your mood. Staying conscious of how active you are while exercising is an important part of this. A fast-paced walk or jog, for example, will do your heart more good than a leisurely stroll. And don’t forget to pair physical activity with a relatively low-calorie diet – only take in as many calories as you expend through exercise.

8) Read Food Labels

Always check the food label before purchasing or consuming any product and avoid foods that are high in calories, sugar, sodium, or saturated and trans fat (i.e. chips, cake, fries, pizza, pop, etc.). But be sure to do your math. Labels will list both serving size and how many calories and other nutrients there are in a serving, so a little multiplication or division may be necessary. You can’t just assume that the whole can is a serving. Stick to foods that are made with natural ingredients, are high in fibre and whole grains, and are low in unhealthy cholesterol. These foods are great for a heart healthy diet.

9) Be Diabetes Savvy

Diabetes is a risk factor for heart disease. In fact, at least 65% of people with diabetes die from some cardiovascular cause (i.e. stroke, heart attack, etc.). So avoiding the risk factors for diabetes—including obesity, physical inactivity, and a diet high in unhealthy carbohydrates (carbs that are high in calories and low in nutrients and fiber)—is a good heart-healthy idea. If you have diabetes, it’s in your heart’s best interest to keep the condition under control. A diabetic should maintain a blood pressure below 130/80 mm Hg. You should also have your blood sugar checked regularly, keeping the fasting blood-sugar level below 110 mg/dL.

10) Steer Clear of Added Sugar

Consuming a diet that has too many sweets and processed starches has been associated with a greater risk of heart disease. So, whether you are diabetic or not, it is best to avoid added sugar, which is sugar added by a manufacturer and that can ramp up the calories in desserts, candy, and sweetened beverages. Heart & Stroke recommends you consume no more than 10% total calories per day from added sugars, and ideally less than 5% (based on an average 2,000 calorie-a-day diet, 10% is about 48 grams of added sugars). Foods that naturally contain sugar such as vegetables, fruit and milk should be included in a healthy diet in reasonable quantities. The most common names for sugar are: barley malt, corn syrup, dextrose, fruit juice concentrate, glucose, high-fructose corn syrup, maltodextrin, maltose, molasses, and sucrose. Be aware of these names when reading food labels. The human body doesn’t need sugar to function properly, and the extra calories could go straight to your waistline.

11) Be Stingy with Salt

To keep your blood pressure under control, and therefore lower your risk of heart disease, Health Canada recommends that people aged 14 and over should eat no more than 2300mg of sodium per day; ideally 1500mg/day would be best. Even though many foods naturally contain salt, up to 75% of the salt in the typical Canadian diet comes from processed foods—everything from soups to salad dressings. Health Canada recommends choosing foods without added salt & preparing home-cooked meals with little or no salt. Alternatively, you can use seasonings such as cayenne, garlic, oregano, pepper, etc. to enhance the flavor of your meals.

 12) Eat a lot of Fruits & Vegetables

One of the easiest ways to stay heart healthy is to simply eat more of the foods you’ve always known are good for you. This includes eating a colorful variety of fruits and vegetables. All fruits and veggies are rich sources of vitamins and fibers. You want to have an assortment of these- the more, the better. Health Canada recommends that half of your plate should consist of fruits and vegetables (approximately 7-10 servings a day), with an emphasis on raw or roasted over canned or frozen, as the latter tend to have more added salt.

13) Learn to Manage your Stress Levels & Do More of What you Love

Stress can have a profound impact on your heart health. It can prevent you from eating properly or cause you to smoke and drink more often. Taking a little time out of your day to focus on yourself will do wonders for your heart and your well-being. Try practicing yoga, meditation, or deep breathing exercises. These are relaxing and easy ways to ward off stress and stay happy.

14) Stop Smoking and Limit your Alcohol Intake

Quitting smoking is the single most important thing a person can do to live longer. If you are a smoker, you are twice as likely to have a heart attack as a non-smoker. But from the moment you stop smoking, your risk of having a heart attack starts to reduce. In addition, too much alcohol can damage the heart muscle, increase blood pressure and also lead to weight gain. Binge drinking will increase your risk of having a heart attack, so you should aim to limit your intake to only 1 or 2 drinks a day.

15) Know how to Recognize the Early Signs of Heart Disease

Heart disease is not one disease, but rather refers to a group of conditions that affects the heart. These conditions may appear at birth or early in life or show up later in life and can often be prevented through healthy lifestyle choices. While many people know to seek immediate medical attention if they experience sudden and severe chest pain, they are not often aware of the other early warning signs and symptoms that may indicate a heart disease. Being aware of these can help to detect a heart problem early. Tightness, discomfort or pain in the upper extremities such as the chest, neck, arm or stomach which comes on when you exert yourself but goes away with rest, may be the first sign of angina, which can lead to a heart attack if left untreated. Extreme fatigue and intolerance to simple activities, such as climbing the stairs or walking, may become very difficult, shortness of breath for no apparent reason, heart palpitations, dizziness, faintness, swelling in different parts of the body, coughing and wheezing when lying on your back, nausea, indigestion and vomiting are all common warning signs. Pay attention to your health, notice changes to your body, and be aware of the early warning signs, however subtle they may be.

16) Check your Family History

A family history of heart disease, meaning 1 or more of your blood relatives has heart disease, can increase your risk for heart disease quite significantly. But your family’s history doesn’t have to become your future. Let your doctor know if you have a family history of heart disease and go for regular checkups to keep an eye on things.

There are so many steps we can take to try to improve our heart health, prevent heart disease, and in turn live a long and healthy life. Please protect your heart, it’s the only one you have!

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