Every February Americans observe American Heart Month to raise awareness and reaffirm the importance of a healthy heart. Heart disease accounts for nearly a third of all deaths worldwide, something more than 600,000 Americans die of every year. But awareness around heart disease is so important because many of the contributing factors can be managed and prevented, such as high cholesterol, high blood pressure, smoking, diabetes, and excessive alcohol consumption.
Looking after your heart is a 24/7 lifestyle, but one that your future self will thank you for. Below are some tips to ensure you maintain good heart health for the long-term.
It almost goes without saying that we should be eating well to look after our physical wellbeing, but there are certain foods we can be eating more of to maintain a healthy heart. Leafy green vegetables like spinach and kale are packed full of antioxidants and vitamins like vitamin K, which help fortify your arteries and prevent deposits of calcium on the artery walls. Other nutrient filled foods like fiber rich whole grains, berries, nuts, omega-3 fatty acids, and healthy fats like avocados will all contribute to a healthy and functioning heart.
We have all probably struggled at some point during the Covid-19 pandemic to maintain or reinvent our exercise routines. With more sedentary lifestyles and less reasons to get out the house, even the most active of us have found it hard to get moving. But we don’t have to go on 10 mile runs or squat 100 pounds to reap the benefits of exercise. In the way that different types of exercises target various parts of the body, it will also make your heart muscle stronger, meaning it will more efficiently pump blood through your body. Getting the heart pumping is the most important thing when it comes to being active, so get creative and use your everyday household objects – whether it’s biceps curls with tins of beans or one leg lunges using the dining room chairs.
Maintain a healthy weight
More and more we are realizing the benefits of avoiding the scales and instead using how you feel in your body and mind as the measure of physical wellbeing. But of course, it is important to maintain your weight within a healthy range so you can be confident that everything is working how it should be for your age. Your body mass index (BMI) is the best tool to understand if a person is at the ideal weight in relation to their height. According to the National Institutes of Health a BMI of less than 18.5 is underweight, between 18.5 and 24.9 is the ideal weight, and between 25 and 29.9 is overweight. As long as you are exercising regularly and eating well, you will increase the chances of you falling into your ideal BMI, and eventually you won’t even have to think about it.
Stay away from cigarettes and smoking
Anyone who has ever smoked will tell you just how tough it is to quit. Nicotine is highly addictive and it’s not at all uncommon to attempt to quit smoking multiple times. But knowing the facts is enough to scare people into saying goodbye to them forever. Smoking covers the walls of your arteries in sticky residue from chemicals, meaning fat can stick to them. Damage to the artery walls can lead to clogging which results in heart attacks and strokes. Secondhand smoke can also lead to heart disease, resulting in 34,000 early deaths in the United States every year among non-smokers. Staying away from cigarettes is the most important thing you could do for your cardiovascular health.
Drink alcohol in moderation
Alcohol is one of the factors that can increase both weight and blood pressure, which heightens the risks of heart attacks. Having more than three drinks in one sitting can raise blood pressure to unhealthy levels, and binge drinking can have long term health repercussions. Alcohol should be enjoyed in moderation, which means one drink a day for women, and two for men. Heavy drinkers can significantly reduce their blood pressure by cutting back their alcohol intake. Some medical professionals agree that red wine is a better choice than hard liquor, but no alcohol is the most preferable option.
Your blood pressure can rise as a result of external factors, so it’s important to take steps that manage your stress levels. During the COVID era it’s a perfect time to do yoga, go for long walks, and even regularly treat yourself to more “me time”, by pampering yourself with a long bath and watching your favorite TV shows. Some people may also find benefit in doing mindfulness and meditation exercises.
You only get one heart, so it’s important we look after it every day to ensure its equipped to keep everything working for years to come.
Here are some delicious and easy healthy recipes to keep your heart happy.
Walnut Pear & Yam Skillet
1 1/2 tablespoons avocado oil
3 1/2 cups (3/4-inch cubes) peeled yam
1/2 cup chopped onion
1/4 cup water
1/2 teaspoon dried basil
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup water
3/4 cup California walnuts, coarsely chopped and toasted
1 large firm but ripe red Anjou pear
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
Heat oil in a very large nonstick skillet set over medium heat. Add yam and onion and cook for 15 minutes to lightly brown, stirring occasionally. Add water, basil and salt; cover and cook over low heat for 10 minutes more or until onion is very soft.
Remove cover and stir in walnuts and pear; cook for 5 minutes more or until pear is heated through and soft. Stir in vinegar and season with pepper.
Garnish with fresh basil, if desired.
Chicken Salad Collard Wrap
8 large collard-green leaves, stems cut off
3/4 c. plain low-fat Greek yogurt
2 tbsp. fresh lemon juice
1 tbsp. Dijon mustard
2 stalks celery, finely chopped
2 scallions, finely chopped
1/2 c. dill, roughly chopped
4 c. shredded white-meat chicken breast
1 small avocado, diced
1 mango, thinly sliced
Tomato-and-cucumber salad, for serving
Bring a large pot of water to boil. Fill a large bowl with ice water. Add 2 teaspoon salt to boiling water, then add collard leaves and cook until just wilted, about 30 seconds. Immediately transfer to bowl of ice water. Once cool, transfer to a large kitchen towel and dry. These can be stored in an airtight container between sheets of paper towel for up to 3 days.
In a bowl, combine yogurt, lemon juice, mustard, and 1/4 teaspoon each salt and pepper. Fold in celery, scallions, and dill, then add chicken and avocado and gently toss to coat.
Lay collard greens on a work surface, fill each with chicken salad and mango slices, then wrap like a burrito. Serve with tomato-and-cucumber salad.
Sweet Potato Kale Frittata
6 large eggs
1 c. half-and-half
1 tsp. kosher salt
1/2 tsp. Freshly ground pepper
2 c. sweet potatoes
2 tbsp. olive oil
2 c. firmly packed chopped kale
1/2 small Red Onion
2 clove garlic
3 oz. goat cheese
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Whisk together eggs and next 3 ingredients.
Sauté sweet potatoes in 1 tablespoon hot oil in a 10-inch ovenproof nonstick skillet over medium heat 8 to 10 minutes or until potatoes are tender and golden; remove and keep warm. Sauté kale and next 2 ingredients in remaining 1 tablespoon oil 3 to 4 minutes or until kale is wilted and tender; stir in potatoes. Pour egg mixture evenly over vegetables, and cook 3 more minutes. Sprinkle egg mixture with goat cheese.
Bake at 350 degrees F 10 to 14 minutes or until set.
Dr Aimee Harris-Newon is a double board certified integrative and interventional clinical psychologist with a post graduate concentration/specialization in functional health and wellness. She’s a best-selling author, frequent speaker at Harvard and the director of The Center for Integrative and Functional Health and Wellness, one of Chicago's top integrative health and wellness centers. For more info visit thecifhw.com/
Dr. Aimee Harris-Newon
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