Heart diseases are the number one cause of deaths in the world. More people die from heart diseases every year than from any other disease. The World Health Federation organizes the World Heart Day each year on the 29th of September, that is today. It is organized with the aim of spreading the news that at least 80% of premature deaths from heart disease and stroke could be avoided if the main risk factors are controlled – tobacco, unhealthy diet and physical inactivity.
The cardiovascular system in the human body is comprised of the heart and the blood-vessels. Cardio means ‘of heart’ and vascular means ‘of blood-vessels’. This system is responsible for delivering blood to the whole body. The heart acts as a pump which pumps blood through the blood-vessels to the whole body. Cardiovascular Disease (CVD) or heart disease is a disorder of the organ heart or the blood vessels or both. There are many risk factors that might contribute to heart diseases including age, gender (men are more prone to CVD), high blood pressure, high cholesterol levels, tobacco smoking, excessive alcohol consumption, family history, obesity, lack of physical activity, diabetes and air pollution. While some of these factors are beyond our control such as age, gender or family history of CVDs, the others are quite manageable. A regular exercise regime, correct dietary changes, stopping consumption of alcohol and tobacco smoking, etc. can go a very long way in avoiding heart complications. Let’s look at some of the ways to make the heart healthier and stronger.
Cardiovascular exercises – as the name suggests cardiovascular exercises (commonly referred to as just ‘cardio’) is the type of exercise that strengthens the heart muscles and gives you a fitter and stronger heart. Cardio is not a fat loss exercise. Although one might lose weight or even some fat (read about weight loss and fat loss here) as a result of doing cardiovascular exercises, but that is not why one should be doing cardiovascular exercises. Cardiovascular exercises are meant primarily to strengthen the heart. Some of the cardiovascular exercises are running, jogging, brisk walking, swimming, rowing, cycling, etc. By definition cardiovascular exercises are aerobic in nature. Aerobic activities are those which can be carried on for extended periods of time. Example: Walking as opposed to lifting a very heavy object. In addition to these, any type of endurance activity will also help strengthen the heart. 30-45 minutes of moderate to high intensity cardiovascular exercise done at least three times a week is enough to give the heart a good workout.
Following is a list of foods that is beneficial for heart health:
- Fish – Fish contains omega 3 fatty acids which help to maintain a healthy lipid profile of the blood. The bad cholesterol responsible for creating blockages in the arteries which may lead to heart attack is lowered by addition of fish oil to the diet.
- Garlic – Contains anti-oxidants and iso-flavanoids which help to keep the arteries clear from blockages and also keeps the blood thin thus preventing heart disorders.
- Foods that are rich in Vitamin C (amla, guava, raw cabbage, oranges, raisins, etc.), beta carotene (carrots, red pumpkin, red radish, etc.), Vitamin E (almonds, pine nuts, peanuts, etc.) are all rich in anti-oxidant properties which prevent the body from the attack of free radicals (chemical structures destroying healthy cells of the body) thus preventing heart problems.
- Ground nut oil for cooking – Best for a healthy lipid profile and keeping heart problems away.
- Oats – Contains pectin which is a soluble fibre responsible for maintaining a very good lipid profile by busting out the bad fats from the body.
- Fish oil supplements – Increases HDL (good cholesterol) and also keep the homocystein levels low. Homocystein is a factor in the blood which increases the risk of heart problems.
- Flaxseeds & flaxseed oil are also sources of omega 3 fatty acids which prevent heart problems – a good option for vegetarians who do not consume fish.
- Pro biotic bacteria from cultured foods like curd/yoghurt help to reduce the LDL (bad cholesterol) in the blood.
- Avocados, green leafy vegetables, dried figs and bananas are rich in magnesium which will help to reduce the risk of increase in bad cholesterol.
- Soya products like soy milk, tofu and soya granules all help in reducing the bad cholesterol levels in the blood which further ensures clear arteries and prevention of heart problems.
- Co Q 10 is a very powerful anti-oxidant supplement which helps to reduce cellular damage to arteries and keep the heart healthy.
Quit smoking and excessive alcohol consumption. Combine the cardiovascular exercises with strength training and flexibility training for overall fitness. And don’t just keep planning – get started. As they say, “A year from now, you’ll wish you had started today.”
On this World Heart Day, LifeBeyondNumbers wishes everyone healthy hearts, healthy bodies and healthy minds.
*Inputs on nutrition by Sveta Bhasin