Nutrition and Lifestyle for Heart Health
According to the American Heart Association (AHA), cardiovascular disease is the number one cause of mortality worldwide – responsible for 17 million deaths last year, it’s expected to rise by another 6 million by the year 2030.
Those are staggering statistics, but don’t let the numbers scare you… a little education can go a long way in learning how to minimize your risks and improve your heart health, naturally.
The heart is the center of our cardiovascular system and beats an average of 100,000 times per day supplying oxygen rich blood to the whole body. Every day we make choices that have a profound effect on the health of this vital organ. Most cardiovascular or heart disease (CVD or HD) maybe linked to lifestyle risk factors such as lack of exercise, obesity, smoking, stress, and poor eating habits. Though there is a genetic component that might also play a hand.
The Silent Killer
One of the most common risk factors of CVD is elevated blood pressure or hypertension (HTN). Often called the ‘silent killer’, hypertension can cause significant damage throughout the cardiovascular and other body systems and ultimately results in over 80 million deaths each year.
Blood pressure is the amount of pressure exerted on the inside of blood vessels as the heart pumps the blood through the body. When there is resistance in the vessels, the pressure rises and hypertension results. The longer hypertension goes undetected and/or uncontrolled, the greater the damage to blood vessels and other organs. Hypertension can lead to heart attack, stroke, ruptured blood vessels, kidney disease or failure, and heart failure.
Warning signs for high blood pressure are rare (hence the name “Silent killer”) but can include headaches, blurred vision, lightheadedness, shortness of breath and nosebleeds.
Know Your Numbers
Hypertension is diagnosed by analyzing the 2 numbers in your BP reading:
- Systolic pressure (the top number) is the pressure in your arteries when the heart beats (contracts).
- Diastolic pressure (bottom number or think D for “Down”) represents the pressure in your arteries between beats.
Normal blood pressure is below 120/80
Prehypertension is 120 – 139 systolic or 80 – 89 diastolic.
Hypertension is 140/90 or higher
It’s also good to note that HTN is a risk factor for metabolic syndrome (or pre-diabetes) along with 4 other factors that include abdominal weight gain, elevated Triglycerides, and low HDL (that’s the good cholesterol).
The Potassium* Secret for Heart Healthy
You’ve no doubt heard the best thing to do when you have hypertension is to reduce the amount of salt/sodium in your diet. Did you know the average adult needs 4,700 mg of potassium daily compared to only 200 mg of sodium. Unfortunately for most of us, our eating habits give us way too much sodium – 3,300 mg a day – and not nearly enough potassium. This imbalance can increase your risk of developing hypertension.
What’s truly important for your heart, and a more accurate strategy to prevent high blood pressure, is to balance the relationship between potassium and sodium (salt) in your daily diet. Proper sodium-potassium balance is necessary for nerve transmission, muscle contraction, fluid balance, and the optimal health of all the cells in your body. In regard to the heart, potassium is particularly important for regulating heart rhythm and maintaining blood pressure.
By reducing your sodium intake, you are often correcting the sodium-potassium imbalance without realizing it. For the best benefit to heart health, eat more potassium-rich foods such as sweet potato, spinach, banana, peas, legumes, apricots, avocados, halibut and molasses*.
5 Heart Heart Health Tips
- Heart-healthy diet do’s: Eat a variety of fresh fruits and dark green veggies daily. Use plant-based oils for cooking. Eat mindfully, not on-the-run. Reduce or eliminate packaged foods, sugar, and red meat.
- Exercise: Walk, no need to run- as little as 30 minutes of daily, brisk walking lowers your risk for hypertension.
- Spend less time sitting: In a recent study, those who logged in more than 4 hours of screen time where at 125% higher risk of cardiovascular disease. Invest in a standing desk, take frequent moving breaks throughout the day, track your daily steps, or use a balance ball to sit instead of a chair.
- Learn to manage stress: Using healthy coping techniques, such as, deep breathing, yoga, meditation, gratitude journaling, and getting quality sleep.
- Supplemental support: Nutritional supplements** shown to support heart health include Hawthorn, CoQ10, Essential Fatty Acids, Magnesium, Garlic and B-vitamins. There’s heaps of research to support the use of these supplements and herbs effectively. Talk with your healthcare provider or nutritionist to learn what would be best for you.
*Because some blood pressure medications affect the potassium level in the body, be sure and discuss the best strategy for making this adjustment with your doctor.
**Supplements you might have heard about—Natto-K (nattokinase), Guggul, or Niacin—should not be taken without the supervision of your health practitioner.
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