This World Heart Day, Become a Heart Hero With Simple A-Z Changes
The theme for this World Heart Day is ‘My Heart, Your Heart’ — where we are being asked to be a ‘Heart Hero’ by making a promise... a promise to make simple changes for our heart health.
Here’s how you can do just that!
1. Avoid diabetes and high blood pressure. Both are silent killers and major causes of the explosion of heart disease cases in the country.
2. Begin early. It’s essential to make the necessary shift in social behaviors and begin to instill ‘healthy living’ as a norm. Don’t wait. Know your genetic history and begin taking care of your heart right from your twenties.
3. Check your numbers. A combination of high triglyceride counts and low levels of good cholesterol (HDL cholesterol) is risky for the heart. So keep a check on both!
4. Dump smoking. The risk of heart attack is twofold higher than the non-smokers. Smoking damages the inner lining of the arteries supplying blood to heart muscle and increases the risk of clot formation, which leads to heart attack.
5. Exercise smart. Excess unaccustomed exercise can be dangerous for the heart. Weight lifting can increase the blood pressure significantly, so could turn out to be harmful for those who already have high blood pressure. Get a thorough medical check-up done before indulging in any high intensity exercise.
6. Focus on soluble fibre. It helps reduce the absorption of cholesterol in the bloodstream and also helps throw it right out of your system. Good sources include oats, apples, citrus fruits and barley.
7. Get enough sleep. Sleep deprivation upsets the balance of key hormones like leptin and ghrelin, which regulate the appetite. Sleeping for minimum seven hours can reduce the risk of fatal heart attacks significantly.
8. Hug everyday. A hug a day gives you your daily dose of oxytocin, a hormone that can protect you from heart diseases and reduce stress. Hugs also help lower the blood pressure. Go hug now!
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9. Increase your HDL (good) cholesterol levels. HDL works like a garbage bag; it gathers cholesterol from the arteries, and helps transport it out of the body. Eating a small serving of almonds (about eight kernels) daily is enough to raise HDL levels.
10. Jilt work stress. Better work-life balance and stress management are imperative for a healthy heart, but our work culture (impossible deadlines, chasing targets 24/7…) often leads to a lot of frustration and negativity, which further pumpa up the secretion of stress hormones - epinephrine (increases heart rate) and cortisol (raises blood pressure). If your body is constantly generating these hormones, you are overworking your heart — increasing the risk for heart attack.
11. Know the benefits of garlic. Garlic contains sulphide compounds which not just reduce cholesterol, but also prevent and remove clots (a big risk factor for heart attacks). It helps clear out clogged arteries by widening blood vessels and encouraging blood circulation.
12. Lose those extra kilos to reach your optimum weight. Think about the human body as a machine, with your heart as a pump that circulates the blood in the body. If you have a bigger body, your pump has to work extra, and as the size of the body comes down, the pump has to work less — thereby improving its efficiency and the longevity.
13. Max the nutrients. Score antioxidants by eating enough fruits and vegetables, as a deficiency would increase the risk for heart disease. Target eating more than five portions of vegetables and fruits every day.
14. Nix alcohol. Alcohol not only damages the heart, but it also attacks the liver by increasing triglycerides levels. It harms the heart muscles (alcoholic cardio myopathy), weakening the heart’s pumping capacity. If you must drink, draw the line at one drink (30ml) for women and two drinks (60 ml) for men per day.
15. Opt for spinach. Homocysteine elevates blood cholesterol as a major risk factor for heart disease and promote blood clotting. Spinach can help keep its levels down.
16. Prune your waist. Truncal (abdominal) obesity (junk-and-beer-belly) is an epidemic now, and that’s a huge factor for heart disease. Waist circumference greater than 80 cm (32 inches) for women and 94 cm (37 inches) for men translates into increased risk.
17. Quick! Get a pet. Just being with a pet - any pet has a soothing effect. Petting the soft fur of a dog or cat or watching fish in a tank is as effective a way of relaxing mind and body as any tranquilizer or meditative technique.
18. Repair your faulty palate. Eating late at night and having junk food of low nutritional value again leads to obesity, which increases risk of heart attack and hypertension.
19. Stay happy. Research has shown that happy and cheerful people are less likely to be afflicted with heart issues. So if you don’t have a natural positive disposition – work consciously at developing one.
20. Take a nap. A 30-minute nap in the middle of the day may actually save your heart. A midday siesta helps relax and lowers the stress levels, fending off heart disease. So, find a couch for a nap or put your head down on your work desk for a while.
21. Unbox the tomatoes. In fact, make tomato your best friend already! Research has linked lycopene (that tomato is loaded with) to reduction of heart disease.
22. Veto stress. Staying totally stress free is impossible for anyone, but one must consciously try and weave in some calm in life. Chronic stress leads to stiffening of the arteries which up the risk of blood pressure (affects the heart adversely).
23. Woman beware. Till date, breast cancer is thought to be a bigger threat. But statistics show that it is heart disease that kills more women every year. Yet, it is still not taken seriously enough.
24. Xerox breathing right! Under stress, our breathing becomes rapid and shallow —depriving the heart of sufficient oxygen. An effective antidote to reverse this oxygen-robbing tendency – ‘Inhale deeply through your nose for a count of 10, then exhale for a count of 10. Repeat twice more. Do this everyday. For minimum five minutes. This will keep your heart happy.’
25. Yoga works! Say yes to yoga as it is an important stress buster Do breathing exercises, pranayama and shavasana. Spend at least 20 minutes everyday doing yoga.
26. Zero in on E. Vitamin E is an antioxidant that is absolutely essential to prevent hardening of your heart arteries. Make sure you get enough.15 grams of sunflower seeds (5 mg) + 15 gm almonds + 6 mg of spinach + 15 gm peanuts (1.2 mg) + 1 egg (0.5 mg) every day should see you through. Also try poached eggs over spinach. When made in olive oil, this ensures three excellent sources of vitamin E in one go.
(Kavita is a nutritionist, weight management consultant and health writer based in Delhi. She is the author of Don’t Diet! 50 Habits of Thin People (Jaico) and Ultimate Grandmother Hacks: 50 Kickass Traditional Habits for a Fitter You (Rupa).
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