Happy February! The month of L-O-V-E and Heart Health Month. I challenge you to use this month as a reminder to strengthen your relationships with friends, family, and loved ones… but most importantly your relationship with yourself. Self love is centered on the way we treat our bodies — physically, mentally, emotionally, and functionally.
But let’s start with where love begins. Beating all day long and supplying blood to every inch of your body, your heart is one of the central organs that we must not forget to show plenty of self love to.
I’m sure we all know someone that has been affected by heart disease in some form or another. Heart disease is a broad term for many types of heart conditions, such as:
- Myocardial Infarction: this is the fancy word for a heart attack. This occurs when there is some sort of blockage of blood flow to the heart muscle.
- Coronary Artery Disease: this is the most common cause of most heart attacks in the US. This occurs when the walls of the arteries bringing blood to the heart and other parts of the body become narrow or stiff due to plaque buildup, which causes poor blood flow.
- Arrhythmia: this occurs when your heart beats too fast or too slow.
- Atherosclerosis: this occurs when there is plaque build up in your blood vessels which blocks proper blood flow to the heart.
- Cardiomyopathy: this occurs when the heart is not pumping efficiently because the heart muscle has become stiff and/or enlarged.
- Congestive Heart Failure: this occurs when the heart is unable to pump adequate amounts of blood to the body due to fluid buildup in other organs such as the lungs, liver, and gastrointestinal tracts.
- Peripheral Artery Disease: this occurs when the walls of the arteries supplying blood to the arms and legs become narrow and/or stiff causing poor blood and oxygen flow to the arms and legs.
Were you aware that heart disease is the leading cause of death in both men and women in the US? What about that every year 790,000 Americans have a heart attack? How about that every 40 seconds someone in the US suffers from a heart attack? Let’s talk about what we can do in our everyday lives to give a little love back to our hearts.
Risk Factors of Heart Disease
There are a few risk factors for heart disease that are beyond our control such as family history, race/ethnicity, and age.
But guess what? The majority of risk factors are completely preventable with the help of mindful lifestyle behaviors. Through heart healthy foods, exercise, sleep, meditation, and personal satisfaction, you can take back your control and slowly remedy these external risk factors which include:
- poor diet
- being overweight or obese
- high blood pressure
- high blood cholesterol
- high blood sugar (diabetes + pre-diabetes)
- low physical activity
- lack of sleep
Heart Disease Signs + Symptoms
Being aware of the early signs of heart disease and listening to what your body is telling you can 1000% save your life or the life of a loved one. Early signs include:
- shortness of breath
- swelling (edema) in your legs, ankles, + feet
- reduced ability to exercise
- persistent coughing or wheezing
- chest pain (angina)
If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, visit your doctor ASAP. The longer you wait to address and treat heart issues, the more damage will be done to your heart.
Physical Activity + Heart Disease
Put the phone down, turn off the tv, get up off the couch, and MOVE! Being active and adopting a physical activity regimen helps to achieve and maintain a healthy weight, but it also helps to stabilize your blood sugar, blood pressure, and cholesterol levels.
*SPOILER ALERT* Being active does not have to be boring. If you hate going to the gym, forget about it! Try an upbeat group fitness class like kickboxing, yoga, dance, or cycling instead. Or just get up and get outside. Walking, biking, running, playing with your dogs, or your kids can be just as effective as spending hours in the gym.
As long as you are moving, you are moving in the right direction. Movement can be the best medicine, so find something you enjoy and stick to it. Consistency is key.
Nutrition + Heart Disease
What if I told you that you could prevent or even reverse most heart diseases with nutrition? In the quick-fix world we live in today, people are so often (and much too quickly) turning to medications and pharmaceutical products to save the day. This just puts a band-aid over the issue, but it won’t be long before that band-aid wears off.
I like to think of food as therapy. It may be a little difficult in the beginning, but with consistent mindfulness, food can become the medicine our bodies are yearning for. We are what we eat, and what we eat is directly related to the way that our heart functions. Swap our those high calorie, high sodium, and high trans fat products with anti-inflammatory and nutrient-dense foods like vegetables, fruits, and quality proteins.
Looking for more nutrition heart health tips? Check out our 6 Superfoods for Heart Health blog!
Schedule a Free 15-Minute Exploration Call Now!
See how Farrah Oxley, RDN, LD can help YOU take back your health with a personalized plan.
Calorie + Weight Control
Calories are simply a unit of energy. We all need calories for energy. Choosing the healthier sources and appropriate amounts for your body and lifestyle is where it can get a little tricky. I’m sure you and I are both guilty of indulging every so often, but consistently consuming high calorie foods and drinks is where we need to re-evaluate our choices.
High calorie products are typically loaded with processed carbs and tons of sugars. If we consume more calories than we burn (which can be accomplished very easily), our bodies will go into a state of calorie surplus. This causing us to gain weight– particularly in the form of increased body fat.
As you hold onto excess body fat, this puts extra strain on your heart muscle, causing your heart to work into overdrive. Choose foods that provide calories that are going to fuel you, not weigh your body down.
Sodium + High Blood Pressure
We humans have an innate drive to crave sugar and salt (aka sodium), but consistently giving into this craving can do some not so great things to our hearts.
Eating lots of high sodium products causes that salt to build up in our blood. An excess of sodium in the blood causes the body to pull in fluid, attempting to dilute the excess salt. This fluid retention leads to a build up of pressure in the blood vessels, which puts additional strain on the workload of the heart. This is called hypertension, the fancy work for high blood pressure.
Common high-sodium products include frozen meals, canned foods, processed snacks, baked goods, condiments, cold cuts, cured meats, and many restaurant meals. Reading food labels and cooking homemade meals can help to better monitor your salt intake. Instead of grabbing the salt shaker, I challenge you to experiment with various herbs, spices, and other flavors such as citrus to enhance your food. This can work wonders for your taste buds and your heart.
Trans Fats + Plaque Formation
When it comes to fats, I have good news and bad news.
Let’s start with the good news: All fat is not bad fat! Fat is essential for the body to function properly. It helps the body utilize energy, absorb certain vitamins (fat-soluble vitamins- A,D,E, and K), regulate hormones, and promote satiety (the feeling of being full), among other things.
Bad news: All fats are not created equal. There are four broad types of fats: polyunsaturated, monounsaturated, saturated, and trans. Trans fatty acids (or trans fats for short) are the major culprits when it comes to protecting your heart. Unlike other types of fat, trans fats offer no benefit to your body, only detriments. Think of them as little dictators. Trans fats alter your lipid (or fat) profiles in a negative way by both increasing your “bad” cholesterol (LDL) and also decreasing your “good” cholesterol (HDL), most importantly it creates inflammation! That’s a double whammy. This causes your arteries to build up with plaque, harden and/or narrow, and blocks proper blood flow to the heart.
If they do such damage to the body, you might ask why are they in the foods we eat??? Trans fats were created industrially in factories by massive food companies to lower food costs and extend shelf life. I don’t know about you, but I like my food coming from mother nature herself… not made in a lab.
When you are shopping, you MUST read the ingredient labels. It is very important to buy products with zero trans fats. If you read the words “partially hydrogenated” anything, RUN! Okay, don’t run, but simply place that product back on the shelf and walk away… quickly.
How are you going to give a little love back to your heart? Head over to our 6 Superfoods for Heart Health blog for more tips!
Need help getting your heart health in order? Schedule your free 15-minute exploration call now.