With the summer sunshine truly upon us, it’s only fitting that we speak about love for our hearts and how we can improve our heart health.

A lot of us are concerned about heart health because maybe our mother or father had heart issues or other members of our family had heart disease. So, as a result we have a predisposition for heart risks but our genes do not equal ‘pre-destiny’. It’s actually the environment we live in, working on our genes, that determines our risk. In other words, it’s the way we eat, how often we exercise, how we deal with stress and the effect of environmental toxins that are the underlying problems of high cholesterol, high blood pressure and elevated blood sugar.

Recent research

Recent research clearly indicates that changing how we live is a much more powerful intervention for preventing heart disease than any medication. As Dr. Hyman states, the “EPIC” study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine studied 23,000 people’s adherence to 4 simple behaviours (no smoking, exercising 3.5 hours a week, eating a healthy diet [fruits, vegetables, beans, whole grains, nuts, seeds, and limited amounts of meat], and maintaining a healthy weight [BMI <30]). In those adhering to these behaviours, 93% of diabetes, 81% of heart attacks, 50% of strokes, and 36% of all cancers were prevented. And the INTERHEART study, published in the Lancet in 2004, followed 30,000 people and found that changing lifestyle could prevent at least 90% of all heart disease.

So, the environment we live in affects the expression of certain genes, thus affecting inflammation, oxidative stress and metabolic dysfunction, which are the main reasons we develop heart disease. So, how do we ensure we live in the best environment for optimal heart health?

Here’s my Top Five Tips for better heart health.

1.       Eat the rainbow

Increase your intake of colourful, fresh fruits and vegetables each day. Aim for 8-10 servings daily. These foods are loaded with disease-fighting vitamins and minerals, fibre and lots of antioxidant molecules. The more colours, the more nutrients, and the better you’ll feel.   

2.       Move more

Research shows that 30-45 minutes of cardiovascular exercise, five times per week is hugely beneficial to your heart health. If this sounds like too much, just do what you can in your current situation to move more. For example, can you take the stairs more often? Can you park further away? Can you cycle/walk to work? Can you get out of the office and walk during your lunch break? Look at ways to incorporate more movement into your day because remember your heart is a muscle also and muscles need exercise.

3.       Reduce stress

Stress is a huge issue in our lives and contributes to increased blood pressure, elevated blood sugars and ultimately increases inflammation, which negatively affects our heart health. To manage daily stress we need to find that ‘pause’ button to help reduce these inflammatory processes. What does this look like for you? Is it a yoga class, some morning meditation, a nice hot bath at the end of the day, a walk in nature or journaling for example? Is there something you can incorporate into your day that will help you to unwind and reduce stress?

4.       Remove processed carbs/junk foods

This includes crisps, sweets, jellies, pastries, pies, ready meals, take-aways, fizzy drinks, processed meats and so forth. As Michael Pollan states: “Eat Real Food, Not too Much, and Mostly Plants. These are the best food rules for optimal heart health.  

5.       Take the right supplements

Getting the right nutrients for your heart health is key and ideally these should come from your food BUT if you’re not able to eat certain foods like fresh, oily fish (Salmon, mackerel, anchovies, sardines, herring) or green vegetables (kale, broccoli, Swiss chard, bok choi, spinach) in higher quantities, then these supplements are essential;

  • Fish Oil for EPA and DHA 
  • Vitamin K2 – helps to incorporate calcium into tissues and bones. When taking a calcium supplement it is highly recommended to take Vitamin K2 with it to ensure correct absorption. One study of 4,800 people showed that high levels of vitamin K2 lowered the risk of coronary artery disease by 57%. It also lowered calcium build up in the arteries by 52%.
  • Magnesium – Magnesium supports a normal, healthy nervous system and muscle function. It also contributes to the maintenance of a healthy heart, bones and teeth.

Photo: Darius Bashar at Unsplash