Heart health is essential because heart disease is a silent killer. In 2019, African Americans were 30% percent more likely to die from heart disease than non-Hispanic whites. Is it time you started looking after your heart? Many of our lifestyle choices have an impact on our heart health. Making specific healthy changes could help protect your heart and potentially live a longer and happier life. This post goes into more detail about what you can do.
Why is heart health so important?
The heart is a vital organ. When your heart isn’t working correctly, it affects the blood circulation to your entire body – affecting all of your organs. And, of course, if your heart stops pumping altogether – you die.
Around 1 in 6 deaths are caused by coronary heart disease. This is when blood vessels supplying the heart start to narrow due to buildups of fat, buildups of tar, or artery damage from high blood pressure. When these vessels get entirely blocked, that is when you experience a heart attack.
Heart attacks are painful, but most people stay conscious throughout. Most people who get treatment in good time survive a heart attack. That said, a heart attack can weaken the heart and leave you vulnerable to a far more dangerous heart problem: cardiac arrest. This is when the heart stops pumping altogether, and a person falls instantly unconscious.
The chance of surviving a cardiac arrest is 50%. Only an electric shock from a defibrillator can resuscitate someone having a cardiac arrest. Until paramedics arrive, CPR must be carried out to keep blood and oxygen flowing around the body. It is recommended that everyone learns CPR just in case they have to save someone. You can look into CPR courses and CPR renewal online.
What are some great ways to look after your heart?
If you want to avoid a heart attack or a cardiac arrest, you must look after your cardiovascular system. This involves actively doing things that can help strengthen your heart, regulate your blood pressure, and improve your blood quality (i.e., reducing bad cholesterol and other unwanted substances). The best things you can do for your heart are listed below.
Many people forget that the heart is a muscle and that, like any muscle, it can be strengthened through exercise. This strength helps to protect it against various heart problems.
Exercise can also get blood flowing more quickly around the body, which can also help flush out bad cholesterol and other contaminants more easily. Also, while your blood pressure increases during exercise, your resting blood pressure will likely decrease if you exercise regularly.
Aside from slow exercises like yoga, most forms of physical activity will exercise your heart by increasing your heart rate. Aerobic exercises (also known as ‘cardio’ exercises) are the best heart-strengthening exercises you can do and include activities like running, swimming, and cycling.
Quitting smoking is also crucial for the heart. The chemicals we inhale when we smoke end up in our blood. Our body doesn’t know what to do with many of these chemicals, and they often end up lining our arteries – which can eventually lead to blockages (i.e., a heart attack).
Smoking can also cause our resting blood pressure to be high. When our blood pressure is constantly high, it can cause damage to the walls of our arteries, which can also lead to blockages and a heart attack.
Quitting smoking is certainly not easy, but it’s important to remember that it’s damaging pretty much every part of your body – and that so many health problems, including heart disease, can be prevented by giving it up.
Take time to de-stress
When we are stressed, our blood pressure increases. Chronic stress can lead to constantly high blood pressure, which can eventually cause damage to the lining of our arteries. This damage can increase the risk of experiencing a heart attack.
It’s not always possible to avoid stress. However, you can reduce the damage caused by stress by exploring ways to reduce stress. Meditation, listening to music, taking a hot bath, laughing, and drinking herbal tea are all proven stressbusters. And, of course, there’s exercise, which helps to flush away stress hormones, replacing them with feel-good endorphins.
Eat more heart-healthy foods
The most important thing that you can do to look after your heart is to adopt a healthy diet. Many foods and drinks can help strengthen the heart or can help to reduce our blood pressure and clear out bad cholesterol.
Which types of food are great for the heart? Think natural. Meals made from fresh fruit, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains are great for regulating blood pressure and clearing our arteries. Fish that is full of omega-3 is also great for the heart.
One diet that is often recommended for heart health is the Mediterranean diet. Foods like tomatoes, avocados, olives (including olive oil), garlic, whole grain pasta, nuts, and seafood are heavily found in Mediterranean dishes and help regulate blood pressure and cholesterol more effectively than many other foods.
Reduce these unhealthy foods
Some foods can increase your risk of developing coronary heart disease by increasing your resting blood pressure and pumping the arteries full of bad cholesterol. These include foods and drinks high in salt, sugar, or saturated fat.
Sugary foods and drinks to limit in your diet include candy, soda, energy drinks, cakes, sweetened cereal, and ready-made sauces.
Salty foods and drinks to be wary of include white bread, pizza, processed meats, sandwiches, chicken, and canned soups.
Foods with lots of saturated fat to be wary of include fried foods, red meats, pastries, potato chips, butter, and ice cream.
You do not have to cut these foods out of your diet forever. However, you should try to make an effort not to consume them regularly. Try to see them as treats and stick to healthier foods most of the time. Such foods are often not just bad for our hearts but many other parts of our body – so it’s worth restricting them.
Know the symptoms of heart disease
Knowing the symptoms of heart disease can help you to take action early before a heart attack or cardiac arrest occurs. Common symptoms include:
- Shortness of breath
- Chest pain
- Pain in arms, back or jaw
- Cold sweats
- A persistent cough
Not everyone experiences all of these symptoms, and some people only experience them during a heart attack. However, it is worth keeping an eye on them and seeing a doctor if you think something is not correct.
Various diagnostics can be carried out to determine if you have a heart problem, including blood pressure tests, cholesterol tests, heartbeat monitoring, electrocardiograms, and multiple scans. Some can be done at home, while others require a doctor to diagnose.
You are likely to be more at risk of heart disease if you are overweight, living with diabetes, or over 65. It is a myth that heart disease is mainly experienced by men – while men often develop heart disease earlier, almost equal amounts of men and women end up with heart disease.
Lifestyle changes and medication can help you manage heart disease and prevent a heart attack or cardiac arrest. In some cases, heart disease may even be reversed.