Get a healthier heart in 7 days
Got a lot on this week? Well spare a thought for your heart. This round-the-clock blood pumper will see you through every meeting, late morning and HIIT class. But almost half of us rarely give this mighty muscle a thought – according to a recent survey.
And that’s worrying – because heart disease – previously thought of as a ‘male’ disease is fast becoming a woman’s issue. Research published by the British Heart Foundation has found that there are now 710,000 women below the age of 44 living with heart disease compared to only 570,000 men. And of the 180,000 people a year who die from cardiovascular disease, 91,550 are now women.
But there’s good news. By adopting the five markers of a healthy lifestyle: drinking moderately, eating well, moving your body daily, keeping your weight down and ditching the cigarettes, you can slash your risk of having a heart attack by 92 percent. The stats come from a Swedish study, which found doing just the first two cuts your risk by over half. Try one of our simple tips each day for a week and then work them in to your routine for good.
Monday: Take your oil
Use monounsaturated fatty acid-rich oils like olive, almond, avocado or rapeseed oil in your cooking. The heart-healthy fat lowers LDL cholesterol (the bad kind) and raises ‘good’ HDL cholesterol. Shop smart and opt for cold-pressed oils, which retain more heart-healthy antioxidants than other forms. For top marks, take an omega-3 supplement as well. Multiple studies suggest they might lower the risk of heart failure.
Tuesday: Sleep well
Skimp by on five hours or lounge in for ten? Either way isn’t great for your heart, according to a 2011 meta-analysis in the European Heart Journal, which found anything outside the six to nine- hour range were at increased risk for heart disease. For optimum rejuvenating benefits, aim for between seven and eight hours. Struggling to switch off? ‘Try adding some time at night,’ says Oprah’s go-to doc and healthy columnist Dr. Oz. ‘I like to set a bedtime alarm to ensure lights are out at the right time.’
Wednesday: Pimp your porridge
This one’s tasty. Add a tablespoon of flaxseed to your breakfast bowl for a potent hit of heart-healthy omega-3’s. Studies indicate that adding flaxseed to your diet can reduce the development of heart disease by 46 per cent. It also helps to keep red blood cells from clumping together and forming clots that can block arteries. Buy it pre-ground and add to yoghurts, fruits or salad.
Thursday: Walk to work
Get up a little earlier, lace up your trainers and pace your normal bus route. Not only has it been recently proven to significantly improve the wellbeing of those bright trainer-ed folk, it’s great for your heart too. Walking just 40 minutes per day reduces heart attack risk by up to 20 per cent, found a study of 9,306 people by the University of Leicester. Just invest in a decent rucksack, says orthopaedic surgeon Simon Moyes; carrying heavy shoulder bags can leave our shoulders vulnerable to inflammation and pain.
Do it first thing in the morning, or just before bed. Or both. More is more when it comes to flexibility, which could be the key to heart health. People over 40 who were the most limber had 30 per cent less stiffness in their arteries than less-bendy participants in a recent Japanese study. They concluded that stretching for 10 to 15 minutes a day may keep arteries pliable by improving the elasticity of the muscles and tissue that surround them.
Saturday: Go for garlic
Dinner party time? Make sure you stock up. Just one clove a day acts as a three-pronged attack on heart disease. One, it discourages red blood cells from sticking together and blocking your arteries; two, it reduces arterial damage; and three, it discourages cholesterol from lining those arteries and making them so narrow that blockages are likely. If you’re not willing to risk the whiffy breath, get its goodness in an odourless garlic supplement.
Sunday: Stock up on veg
For a healthy heart, aim to make veggies 50 per cent of your plate. Daily servings of garden salad have serious joyless potential, so get adventurous. Cruciferous vegetables such as kale, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, and cabbage are full of antioxidants and other heart-saving phytochemicals. A recent Chinese study even found that eating them regularly reduced participants likelihood of dying from heart disease. They’ll last longer in your fridge than the limp lettuce leaves too!
Do you have any great heart-healthy tips to see us into week two? Tweet and share with us @healthymag