How do you keep your heart healthy?
The heart is central to the circulatory system, which is also known by the term cardiovascular system. This system supplies the body and cells with nutrients and oxygen, whilst also removing carbon dioxide and other waste materials from the cells.
Much of the time this system works efficiently but, if problems do develop, they tend to be quite serious. In the West, illnesses of the circulatory system - which include high blood pressure and coronary heart disease (CHD) - account for over 50% of all deaths.
So, it is very important to look after the circulatory system in order to keep the heart healthy and prevent such problems from occurring. In order to do this, we must focus on:
Here, I outline how these factors can improve heart health, plus I explain how herbal remedies can assist when it comes to heart health.
Why are men more at risk of heart problems?
There are several reasons why men have a higher risk of cardiovascular problems than women.
Rates of cholesterol levels2, high blood pressure3 and smoking4 are all higher amongst men and these are risk factors for developing heart-related problems.
The reason for higher blood pressure and cholesterol levels amongst men is somewhat biological. Men lack the protective effects of oestrogen, which can increase HDL cholesterol (good cholesterol) and decrease LDL (bad cholesterol).
Men's greater body mass and height means they also have a greater chance of developing high blood pressure.
Furthermore, research indicates that men are more likely to react to stress with a 'fight or flight' response. This coping mechanism may further contribute to high blood pressure.5
For more information on this topic, have a look at my blog 'Are men more prone to heart disease?'
A healthy diet is incredibly important for the health of the heart as it can help to prevent and manage a wide range of conditions, including high cholesterol, heart disease and high blood pressure.
Foods to include in your diet
Fruit and vegetables provide a range of nutrients that are beneficial for the heart.
A few important ones to remember.
- Watermelons aid circulation as they are rich in lycopene, a compound that can help prevent a build-up of plaque (the substance that can interfere with blood flow in the arteries). Lycopene has antioxidant properties which may explain why it has this effect.6
- Oranges contain high levels of vitamin C and bioflavonoids which help the flow of blood through the body by strengthening the capillary walls.
- Blackberries are known to promote new blood cell formation.
- Beetroot is thought to help in cases of high blood pressure as it improves blood flow around the body.7
- Garlic is a natural blood thinner. It is fantastic for increasing blood circulation in feet/hands, and may also clear up clogged arteries if eaten raw daily, in moderation.8
Fish such as salmon and herring can benefit the heart as they contain omega-3 pulyunsaturated fatty acids, a nutrient that is very good for improving blood circulation.9 Meeting omega-3 recommendations may also reduce the overall risk of cardiovascular disease.
Nuts and seeds are packed with nutrients. Pumpkin seeds, in particular, are a good source of vitamin E, which is proven to keep blood flowing freely and prevent blood clots.10
Wholegrain bread, pasta and rice are healthier options than white varieties. They have also been associated with a lower risk of heart disease because they are richer in nutrients and promote a healthier body weight.11
Fibre (such as oat beta-glucan) may help to manage cholesterol levels, thus also benefiting the heart.12 Dietary fibre can be helpful in removing the building blocks of cholesterol from the body. This, in turn, reduces overall cholesterol levels. Grains like oats, bran, wheat and barley all contain fibre.
Food groups to cut down on
Saturated fats, which are found in cheese, milk, butter and more, can raise cholesterol and increase the risk of developing coronary heart disease. Switch these with healthy fats, including nuts, seeds, fish and avocadoes.13
Salt, when consumed in excess, can raise the risk of developing high blood pressure. This can, in turn, increase the risk of coronary heart disease.14
Alcohol can also make you more likely to develop heart problems like high blood pressure and high cholesterol when it is regularly consumed.15
Sugar in cakes, biscuits, fizzy drinks and more can all contribute to weight gain. This is a serious risk factor for many heart-related problems.
General lifestyle advice
As well as thinking more consciously about diet, there are other areas of our lifestyle that we must focus on in order to keep the heart healthy.
Managing portion sizes is important for the health of the heart as eating too much food raises body weight and increases the risk of heart disease.
Exercise can help to lower cholesterol and blood pressure levels, plus it helps to maintain a healthy weight. See A.Vogel's Get Active hub for tips and advice on exercising. Remember, simple activities like walking and stretching add in extra active minutes throughout the day.
Reduce stress levels as this can be another risk factor for heart disease and strokes, particularly if the stress is a long-term problem. Exercise is very good for reducing stress levels, as are relaxation techniques like deep breathing.
Smoking increases the risk of heart disease, as well as various other health conditions. Visit your GP for advice on how to quit.
How can herbal remedies help?
Herbal remedies may assist when it comes to heart health.
Hawthorn and Garlic
Hawthorn and garlic have traditionally been used to aid blood pressure and circulation. You can find both of these ingredients in Jan de Vries' Hawthorn-Garlic Capsules, along with a dose of vitamin E and vitamin B1. The latter is also beneficial for normal heart function.
Ginkgo biloba is a traditional herbal remedy that helps maintain healthy circulation and blood flow. A.Vogel's Ginkgo biloba is made from freshly harvested ginkgo and comes in both tablet and tincture form.
When to see your doctor
Always speak to your doctor if you have any concerns about your heart, or any other aspect of your health.
The NHS recommends that anyone between the ages of 40-74 has a health check-up every 5 years, even if you have no pre-existing health concerns.