Keep your ticker fighting fit with these holistic tips
Heart disease is the biggest killer in the UK, so it pays to take steps to avoid it. Thankfully, there’s plenty you can do to reduce your risk.
Studies show that interval training is the best form of exercise to strengthen your heart. Raising then lowering your heart rate many times in the same session improves vascular function and makes the body better at clearing sugar and fat from the blood.
Beware of going from couch to high intensity though. Work up slowly, because sudden extreme exercise can temporarily raise the risk of heart attack according to a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine. If you love cycling, you could bike at a normal pace for three minutes, then do a one-minute burst of brisk pedaling, then repeat the cycle for 20 minutes. Choose something you love doing and you’ll be much more motivated to keep it up.
There has been much controversy around which foods cause heart disease, but the general consensus now is a low-saturated fat, high-fibre, plant-based diet can reduce your risk. The Mediterranean diet has come out tops in recent studies for both reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease and also the likelihood of a second heart attack. But this doesn’t mean gorging bowls of pasta! Following the true Mediterranean diet involves replacing butter with olive oil, using herbs and spices instead of salt for flavour, limiting red meat to no more than a few times a month, and eating oily fish at least twice a week. It also means the odd glass of red wine (hooray!), enjoying meals with family and friends, and getting plenty of exercise.
The occasional bit of stress is part and parcel of life but, left unchecked, chronic stress can cause a lot of damage to the body. When we are stressed, our body behaves like it’s in physical danger and levels of stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline rise. Adrenaline ramps up your blood pressure and cortisol increases the amount of glucose in the blood. In caveman days, all this would enable you to escape whichever wild animal was chasing you. But in today’s world, when these hormones are persistently elevated, they distrupt the body’s other processes and cause inflammation.
The solution? Ideally, you’d escape the stress source but that’s not always possible. Enter meditation. The evidence that meditation beats stress and lowers heart disease risk is vast. One five year study in which people practised transcendental meditation daily found it reduced the risk of death, heart attack and stroke by 48 percent. To replicate this form of meditation at home, sit in a comfortable position with your eyes closed and your body relaxed, and silently repeat a soothing mantra in your head for 15 minutes every day.
If you are overweight or obese, you are more likely to develop cardiovascular disease. But it’s the distribution of weight that matters – a study of more than 6,000 women found that 90 percent of those with a waist measuring 35 inches or more had major risk factors for heart disease such as high blood pressure or cholesterol. Carrying weight around the waist also makes you more prone to diabetes, which is damaging for the heart.
Experts are still at odds as to whether statins are the life-saving drugs they are purported to be. They are prescribed to millions of people in the UK to help lower levels of ‘bad’ cholesterol in the blood, in order to reduce the risk of heart attack or stroke. But some studies have claimed they are an unnecessary prescription for many. The NHS lists possible side effects such as digestive problems like constipation, diarrhoea, indigestion and flatulence, muscle and joint pain and an increased risk of diabetes, headaches and nosebleeds. But what’s the alternative? Medical guidelines advise you to talk to your doctor if you’re experiencing unpleasant side effects – you’ll then be switched to a different statin. Interestingly, there is a natural product which has recently been proven to reduce cholesterol by as much as 30 percent. Perfect Vascular Natural contains red yeast rice, plant sterols and Co-enzyme Q10. £35, vascularnatural.co.uk.
So there we have it, just a few simple tweaks will keep your ticker in great shape for longer.
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