Future-proof your heart with our top holistic tips
If you’ve been experiencing chest pain recently, it could be down to more than just indigestion. According to the British Heart Foundation, seven million people in the UK are currently living with cardiovascular disease and shockingly, it now causes more than a quarter of all deaths. For many of us, symptoms are triggered by our lifestyle choices – from what we eat every day to how we deal with stress – and over time, these can lead to high blood pressure, high cholesterol and obesity that all put a strain on our heart. The good news? Research has proven that it is possible to rewind the clock and get your heart health back on track – starting with your diet.
An easy way to boost your heart health is to increase your intake of superfoods. Nutritionist Rick Hay (rickhay.co.uk) recommends a mixture of brightly coloured purple fruit. “Choose blueberries, blackberries, raspberries and acai berries to help keep your heart fighting fit,” he says. These all contain high levels of the antioxidant, anthocyanin, which has been shown to reduce the risk of heart attacks in women by up to 32 per cent. For best results, Rick suggests whizzing up a heart healthy smoothie. “I blend mine with a handful of spinach or kale, some blueberries or frozen mixed berries and a banana,” he explains. “To finish, add a teaspoon of acai or spirulina, 200ml of coconut milk and some mixed seeds to increase essential fatty acids.”
While you can’t beat a diet rich in fruit and veg, supplements are an excellent way to top up the vital vitamins and minerals you need for a healthy heart. “An added bonus is that supplements often have a higher nutrient density and generally deliver a more concentrated amount than if you were to eat the food stuff itself,” says Rick. So, what should we be looking out for on the shelves? “For heart health, keep an eye out for coenzyme Q10, olive leaf extract and magnesium – for vegetarians, I recommend algal oil.” Individually, these have been shown to reduce levels of ‘bad’ LDL cholesterol, boost arterial health and support a stronger heartbeat.
By swapping your morning cup of char for a mug of green tea, you can quickly improve your circulation. Research from the European Journal of Cardiovascular Prevention and Rehabilitation found that volunteers who drank a cup of green tea experienced significant artery dilation within just 30 minutes; longterm this will help to reduce the risk of blood clots that can trigger a heart attack. “Green tea has also been shown to kickstart your metabolism, which helps with fat burning and in turn lowers cholesterol,” adds Rick.
Sugar. It’s everywhere – from caffeinated drinks to pasta sauces – and recent reports from Public Health England suggest we should be reducing our daily intake by at least half. The sweet stuff not only increases our likelihood of obesity, but can significantly raise our blood pressure, heightening our risk of cardiovascular disease by up to 25 percent. Monitoring your sugar intake is key to keeping your heart healthy, so keep a notebook handy to write down when you are craving sugar and how much you have consumed in a day. This can help you start to notice your triggers and be better prepared to resist temptation.
If you often feel yourself getting het up at work or frustrated with your partner, your stress levels could be enough to put your health at risk. “Many of us who suffer with stress use unhealthy lifestyle habits to deal with negative emotions, such as seeking comfort in fattening foods. But it is these misguided coping mechanisms that are, in fact, the biggest danger to your heart,” says David James Lees, founder of integrative health centre Wu Wei Wisdom (wuweiwisdom.com). “People often believe that they are the ‘victim’ of stress, when in fact they are the creator of their emotions,” says David. The great news is that it is possible to take control of your stress levels. “Just 10-15 minutes a day of mindfulness is enough for you to become aware of your thoughts and emotions and maintain a balanced and positive mindset,” he adds.
You don’t have to be a gym bunny to reap the rewards of regular exercise. Research has shown that people who don’t exercise are almost twice as likely to develop heart disease – but a mere 30 minutes of moderate exercise a day is enough to transform your heart health. David recommends an integrated workout, such as qi gong: “Qi gong not only benefits you physically, but unifies the mind, body and spirit through graceful stretching and relaxing movements,” he explains.
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