According to the heart and stroke foundation, in 2008 alone, 29% of all deaths were related to cardiovascular disease (CVD). In fact every 7 minutes in Canada, someone dies from heart disease or stroke (Statistics Canada, 2011c). What is sad about these numbers is that Heart Disease has been linked as a lifestyle disease, and there are many ways to prevent this from happening in your own life. Some lifestyle risk factors include: smoking, alcohol, physical inactivity, obesity, high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol, diabetes and at least nine in 10 Canadians (90%) have at least one risk factor for heart disease or stroke (PHAC, 2009).
Every moment of your life, your heart will beat. The force of the pump of your heart will transport oxygen and nutrients to every tissue, organ and cell in your body. The blood then returns to the heart and this cycle is repeated approximately 100,000 times a day. This is a lot of work! Your heart is absolutely critical to every part of your body. Problems begin when something interrupts this flow of life.
There are two most commonly known conditions associated with this interruption. A heart attack happens when there is something that blocks the flow of blood to the heart; a clot, plaque, etc. A stroke happens when something blocks the flow of blood to the brain or when a blood vessel in the brain bursts. High blood pressure also plays a role in the development of heart attack and stroke. The higher the pressure, the high the stress on the arteries.
To keep those arteries clear and blood moving freely in the body, you can make some easy nutritional and lifestyle changes.
- First order of business, switch-up your fats. Good quality fats have been associated with reducing your cardiovascular risk. You can do this by including olive oil, coconut oil, omega 3 fish oils, nuts and seeds, flaxseed, chia seed and avocados daily in your diet. At the same time, work on eliminating fats such as trans and hydrogenated from your diet. This will include anything deep-fried, chips, rancid oils, margarine etc.
- Eat a rainbow of fresh vegetables and fruits in your diet, trying to get at least 6 servings a day (more vegetables than fruit). The brighter the better. Bright colored fruits and vegetables contain flavonoids and carentoids that contain antioxidants. Studies have shown that when your body has a high amount of antioxidants, that your risk for CVD is lowered, among many other benefits.
- Blood sugar balance. You might not think that insulin resistance plays a role in CVD, but the truth is that is can be linked to the hardening of the arteries. Excess insulin in the blood can affect the liver’s ability to regulate cholesterol, it can lead to oxidative stress in the body, and it can contribute to high blood pressure. It is important to keep your blood sugar levels in check. One way to do this is to consume enough fiber in your diet. Eating whole grains, legumes, vegetables and fruits can provide this in your diet. You can also include a fiber supplement like milled flaxseed or Pgx. Aim for 30-35g of fiber a day. Included in blood sugar balancing is removing anything refined from your diet including refined sugar, breads, rice and pasta. These “non-foods” go directly into your blood stream causes a spike in insulin levels.
- Get moving. Regular exercise is vital to heart health. Many people know this but few people actually make it a point to incorporate it into their lives. Exercise assists in the transport of oxygen and nutrients to the cells, it strengthens heart muscles, helps with lowering blood pressure, enlarges the arteries to the heart, among many other wonderful health benefits. If you could put all the benefits of exercise into a pill, it would be the most amazing pill in the world.
- Reduce the stress in your life. The best way to start this process is calming the mind. Practice deep breathing, try yoga, and meditation, get regular massage or spend quality time in nature. No matter what your beliefs and how busy your life gets, you can find that way that you can clear your head and unwind. Once you find that way, do it often, ideally everyday. Reducing stress and clearing your mind slows your heart rate, can help reduce blood pressure, and can help normalize blood sugar.
- Make room for love and foster loving relationships in your life including both the giving and receiving of love. Most importantly, this also includes love for yourself. Work on developing those relationships with those closest to you and make time for yourself, doing the things that satisfy your soul.
Keeping your heart healthy can be an easy process, incorporating one step at a time.
Tracy Thiessen is a Certified Holistic Nutritional Consultant, C.H.N.C.™. Her interest in nutrition started at a young age, when she learned how to prepare meals but also began to question what was in the foods she ate. Her curiosity and interest continued after seeing major improvements in her own health after modifying her diet and altering her lifestyle, which led her to study Nutrition.
- Michael T. Murray, 2013, Cholesterol and heart health.