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Look after your ticker!

Mark Fox, health and fitness tutor at The Training Room, suggests some natural ways to look after the health of your heart

With over 7.4 million people in the UK living with a heart or circulatory disease, it pays to know how to look after your ticker. The good news is that we now know much more about how to prevent these diseases and it’s clear that living a healthy lifestyle (eating better and exercising more) can make a big difference.

Certain foods can influence risk factors for heart disease, including blood pressure, cholesterol, inflammation and triglycerides (a type of fat found in your blood), so it’s important to do your research. Supporting your heart health goes beyond simply avoiding unhealthy foods, and to lower the risk of heart conditions it’s important to increase the amount of high fibre, nutrient-rich foods in your diet, as well as those important healthy fats. From nuts, tomatoes and legumes to blueberries, green tea and avocados, there are so many foods that can benefit the heart. It would take us days to run through them all, so I’ve selected a few favourites, along with some exercise tips, to put you on the right road.

The right omegas

To achieve better heart health, you need to make sure you’re eating a higher ratio of omega-3 fats (found in foods like walnuts, tofu and yogurts) to omega-6 fats (found in foods like meat, poultry and eggs). Why? Because, if over-consumed, omega-6 fats can lead to chronic inflammation, increasing the risk of heart disease.

Fatty fish, such as salmon, sardines and mackerel, are superstars in the world of heart-healthy foods because they contain large amounts of omega-3, which has been shown to reduce the risk of an irregular heartbeat and plaque building up in the arteries. It’s a good idea to try eating fatty fish at least twice a week. You can, of course, take dietary supplements with omega-3, but they may not have the specific kinds of omega-3 found in fatty fish that are so beneficial to the heart. Also, be aware that there is some cross-over between omega-3 and omega-6 foods, but nothing a quick Google search can’t help with!

Plenty of leafy greens!

There’s a reason you’re told to eat your greens! Foods such as kale, broccoli and spinach are packed full of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, so adding more to your plate is an easy adjustment to make to help improve heart health. A fantastic source of vitamin K, leafy greens help to look after your arteries and support proper blood clotting. They also help to reduce blood pressure, reduce stiffness in arteries and improve the function of blood vessel cells. Research has even associated eating leafy greens with a 15.8 per cent reduction in cardiovascular disease.

The odd bar of dark choccy

Eating chocolate can often make us feel a tad guilty, but, interestingly, cocoa and particularly dark chocolate can help to boost heart health because of the flavonoids, which can help with blood clotting, pressure and inflammation. Several studies have associated chocolate consumption with a lower risk of heart disease, with one large study finding that the risk of coronary disease fell by 57 per cent for those who ate chocolate at least five times per week compared to non-chocolate eaters. However, before you start tucking into a slab of your favourite chocolate, it’s important to bear in mind that chocolate can contain high amounts of sugar and calories, which, if you’re not careful, can undo many of its health-promoting properties. The trick is to pick good quality dark chocolate with a minimum of 70 per cent cocoa content and remember, everything in moderation.

Exercise regularly!

Regular physical activity is a major step toward a healthy heart, with aerobic exercise and resistance training being the most effective types for improving and maintaining heart health. Aerobic exercise helps to improve blood circulation, which leads to a lower heart rate and blood pressure, also helping to improve your overall aerobic fitness and cardiac output (in other words, how well your heart pumps). Resistance training, on the other hand, can help to reduce body fat (including around the waist, which is a risk factor for heart disease) while building lean muscle. What’s more, when combined, aerobic exercise and resistance training can help to raise good cholesterol and lower bad cholesterol.

The government’s physical activity guidelines recommend that adults do at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity (including brisk walks, swimming and cycling) or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity activity (including running and playing sport) per week. On at least two days per week, adults are encouraged to focus on building strength. All of this will contribute to optimum heart function.

Did someone say coffee?

Probably something you were not expecting to see on this list is coffee, but it could have some positive effects on heart health. One study suggests that two cups of your favourite blend per day could reduce the risk of stroke and cardiovascular disease by 30 per cent. However, it’s important to note that people break down caffeine differently, and when this happens at a slower rate, it can have a negative impact on heart health. Also, be mindful that a large latte with caramel syrup at your favourite coffee chain may negate the coffee’s heart-helping benefits because of all the sugar!

The subject of heart health is an expansive one, but, hopefully, you now have a few simple ways to give your body more of what it needs to keep your heart ticking along nicely for as long as possible.

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