Date: 22 Nov 2017
Written by: Annmarie Cannone
Cardiovascular disease is one of the major causes of death in Australia and is one of Australia’s largest health problems and it places quite a lot of strain on the health care system. As we age, we are more susceptible to developing cardiovascular issues, whether this be elevated blood pressure or imbalances in cholesterol levels. Over time, these issues cause an increase in the burden of disease. It is essential that we do all we can to ensure a healthy cardiovascular system and most of all, a healthy heart. The following are some ways we can ensure we keep ourselves healthy:
Maintain a Healthy Weight
Our weight is directly correlated to our heart health and unfortunately, the incidence of obesity is significantly increasing globally, with 400 million adults worldwide, being obese. These statistics are alarming, considering the influence our weight has on our cardiovascular system. The larger we are, the greater the chance of developing high blood pressure, diabetes, and atherosclerosis. All these factors can negatively impact our heart health. Maintaining a healthy weight can sometimes be difficult as there are multiple factors involved here. It is essential to eat a balanced diet, exercise at least 30 minutes per day, balance hormones and reduce stress as heightened stress can negatively impact our weight.
Manage stress levels
The direct link between stress and heart health isn’t entirely known however, it is known that heightened and chronic stress levels can contribute to elevated blood pressure and places a strain on the cardiovascular system. Although stress is inevitable, the way we cope and deal with stress, is what we can change. Implementing stress reduction strategies is an important aspect of everyday life and can be anything from exercising, meditating or, even socialising. It is important to identify what allows you to unwind and destress to reduce the pressure on your cardiovascular system.
Reduce Sodium intake
Sodium is an essential electrolyte and we do require it daily however, over consumption, through dietary means, can place a strain on the cardiovascular system. Sodium, in excess, can contribute to fluid retention and increased vascular pressure which, in turn, can contribute to elevations in blood pressure. Ideally, not adding sodium (table salt) to food whilst cooking will ensure you consume minimal amounts of sodium, as vegetables do contain a small amount of natural sodium.
Exercise is essential to maintain optimal health and improve our weight and subsequently, our BMI. As well as this, it is crucial to maintain the strength and health of our heart. The best form of exercise for cardiovascular health has been found to be interval training- short bursts of high intensity exercise with slightly longer periods of active recovery. Continuously raising and lowering heart rate improves vascular function, burns calories, and enables the body to normalise and balance glucose and cholesterol levels. Try High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT). It’s a new, short, but effective exercise routine. It is believed that 15 minutes of HIIT burns more calories than jogging on a treadmill for an hour, and it’s great for your heart!
Consume a balanced diet
Many diets have been investigated for the beneficial effect they can have on our heart health. The most investigated diet is, The Mediterranean Diet. The Mediterranean Diet is high in polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fatty acids, low in saturated fats and animal protein, high in fresh fruit and vegetables, nuts and seeds and limited in dairy and contains a modest amount of fresh fish. It also contains a daily glass of red wine. There is minimal, if any, sugar and refined carbohydrates and the carbohydrates consumed are complex in nature (whole wheat, whole grains). Those who consume a classically, Mediterranean Diet, have a lower incidence of high blood pressure and heart disease. Resveratrol found in the skin of red grapes and thus, in red wine, has been shown to exhibit potent antioxidant activity to the heart and cardiovascular system. It assists in cell rejuvenation and prevents cardiac cell death, thus improving the functioning of the heart.
Smoking or the use of any tobacco products, has a strong link to the development of heart disease. The carbon monoxide present in cigarette smoke replaces some of the oxygen in your blood. This as a result, increases blood pressure and heart rate, causing the heart to work and pump harder to supply enough oxygen to the body. Even social smoking can be detrimental to heart health. The good news, though, is that your heart disease risk begins to lower soon after quitting, in fact, it starts to lower 1 year after quitting and after 15 years of cessation, coronary heart disease risk drops to that of almost a non-smoker. The sooner you stop smoking, the better it is.
Ensure healthy cholesterol levels
Cholesterol is produced by our liver daily and is required for many bodily and cellular functions however, in excess, it can negatively influence our heart health. When cholesterol levels are elevated, for prolonged periods of time, it can contribute to the development of fatty deposits also known as, plaque, in the arteries. These fatty deposits can increase blood pressure as well as contribute to reduced functioning of the heart and can be very detrimental to health, in the long term.