Did you know that in India alone, there are nearly two million heart attacks annually and one person dying of it every 33 seconds? “Our heart beats about 2.5 billion times over the average lifetime, pumping millions of gallons of blood to every part of the body. It is an amazing fact to know how efficiently it works without stopping,” says Dr Manoj Kutteri, wellness director at Atmantan Wellness Centre.
However, it takes very little to damage the heart, and factors like lack of exercise, an unhealthy diet and smoking for a prolonged period of time, all play a role in it. “A healthy lifestyle, especially when started at a young age, goes a long way in preventing cardiovascular disease. With a proper lifestyle change, adopted even after development of a cardiovascular problem, can help reverse such conditions,” says Dr Kutteri.
Start with small modifications to your diet and exercise routine. Eat a handful of almonds or walnuts for Omega-3 fatty acids and to maintain a healthy heart. Add blueberries and cranberries to your diet as well as they are loaded with phytonutrients and antioxidants. Stay away from refined carbohydrates like sugar and refined flour which have no nutritive value, lead to weight gain and damage blood vessels. You need to also avoid deep-fried foods which will increase your cholesterol levels.
“While decreasing the intake of carbohydrates can help, choosing the right type of carbohydrate is equally important. Fibre-rich carbs like whole grains, seeds, and legumes are healthy options,” says Luke Coutinho, holistic nutritionist and founder of Purenutrition.me.
And when it comes to workouts for the heart, aerobic exercises are extremely beneficial. “They work towards increasing the heart rate and making the heart work more, thereby improving its capacity to pump blood under stress. If you are just starting off, fast-paced walking or jogging daily for 30 minutes can also be a great way to improve heart health,” says Coutinho.
Here are 10 things you can do to keep your heart healthy:
Preventing gum disease
Gum disease is closely connected to heart disease, and should be treated immediately. “Gum disease is caused by bacteria that are capable of entering the bloodstream and damaging the blood vessels or arteries. This can lead to blood clots inside the arteries which are the leading cause of heart attack,” says Coutinho.
Avoid smoking, second-hand smoke
Smoking is linked to heart disease, and is one of the major risk factors for heart disease as it damages the blood vessels, causing atherosclerosis and blockages. “Carbon monoxide in cigarette smoke replaces some of the oxygen in your blood. This increases your blood pressure and heart rate by forcing your heart to work harder to supply sufficient oxygen,” says Dr Kutteri.
However, even passive smoking can be harmful for your heart. “Second-hand smoke has been shown to increase the risk of stroke by 20-30% and cause coronary heart disease and stroke in many subjects,” says Coutinho.
Don’t be a couch potato
Studies show that people who sit for more than 8 hours a day are more likely to develop type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. “Type 2 diabetes is also a major risk factor for heart disease. Almost 1 in 2 people with heart disease are also diabetics. To avoid lifestyle disorders and heart disease due to a sedentary routine, move more and develop the habit of doing moderate exercises daily,” says Coutinho.
Get a good night’s sleep
When you sleep, your body undergoes a detoxification process wherein harmful toxins are flushed out, and the hormones in your body attain equilibrium. “This balance allows the body to heal, including the heart muscles and blood vessels,” says Coutinho.
Lack of sleep, on the other hand, can activate the body’s stress response by triggering the sympathetic nervous system, and this can alter the production of cortisol. “These stress hormones, when raised in the blood, makes the heart work too hard to keep the body alert. A good night’s sleep induces deep relaxation and will help the heart to function at optimum levels,” says Dr Kutteri.
Cut down on salt
Sodium is an important mineral needed to maintain a balance of water in and around cells, and optimum blood pressure. “A person requires on an average of less than 5gm of salt per day. Excess intake of salt leads to storage of extra water in the body which in turn raises the blood pressure. When the blood pressure is high, there will be increased strain on the heart and blood vessels,” says Dr Kutteri.
Foods that are extremely high in salt or sodium such as frozen foods, canned or processed foods should be avoided for a healthy heart, says Coutinho.
Laughing doesn’t just release feel-good endorphins. It also reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease, heart attack and stroke. “It can also make alterations in the blood flow which, in turn, lowers blood pressure and supports heart health,” says Dr Kutteri.
Being happy is important to lower stress hormones which can regulate blood pressure, decrease inflammation in the arteries and increase good cholesterol levels, says Coutinho.
Continued exposure to stress can lead to high levels of stress hormones, such as adrenalin and cortisol, that influence the heart rate and blood pressure. “High levels of stress can also change the way our blood clots,” says Dr Kutteri.