How to have a strong healthy heart

Health, Seniors
healthy woman with arms outstreched

Keeping our hearts healthy is important. Many people think that heart attacks just happen out of the blue. That there is nothing that can be done about it. You are just unlucky if you have a heart attack, but this is just not true for most people. How can we have a strong and healthy heart?

How can you improve your heart health?

Fortunately the answers to this are very clear. There are simple things you can do to keep your heart strong and improve your life. It is really important to take action and not just if you are an older person:

“Heart disease is nothing to ignore, and it can strike both the old and young. In fact, heart disease is the leading cause of death among men and women in the United States. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, someone in America has a coronary event every 25 seconds.” via Heart Health Is Important at Every Age – Heart Health …

Can you reverse heart problems?

People often seem to think that heart problems just happen and that nothing can be done about it. The overwhelming evidence is that this is not true.

If you doubt this, read the book “Open Heart” by Dr Akil Taher. Dr Akil was an extremely successful US doctor, but he had angioplasty aged 56 and then open-heart surgery at 61. In the book he talks about how he came back from that and became an endurance athlete (running marathons and climbing mountains. He explains what he did to improve his health dramatically, so that now in his seventies he’s in better health than he was in his fifties or sixties. His is such an inspiring story, read it and understand that you too can get healthier as you age.

If you can improve your heart health after heart surgery, you can definitely do it before!

Being overweight puts unnecessary strain on the heart

This is particularly true if you carry the weight around your waist.

Many overweight people with angina, raised blood cholesterol and high blood pressure found their condition improved a lot, even after losing only some of their excess weight. Many of those who kept their weight off were able to reduce their medication or even stop it completely. Look at this post to see how to lose weight with simple changes.

The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (USA) says:

“People who are overweight or obese often have health problems that may increase the risk for heart disease. These health problems include high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and high blood sugar. In addition, excess weight may cause changes to your heart that make it work harder to send blood to all the cells in your body.”

“Losing 5 to 10 percent of your weight may lower your chances of developing heart disease. If you weigh 200 pounds, this means losing as little as 10 pounds. Weight loss may improve blood pressure, cholesterol levels, and blood flow.”

Research published by the American Heart Association found that among older adults with obesity, combining aerobic exercise with moderate reductions in total daily calories led to greater improvements in vascular health compared to exercise alone. Reducing calorie intake by approximately 200 calories per day may lead to significant weight loss and improve vascular health in older adults with obesity.

Tina Brinkley, lead study author,  is an associate professor of gerontology and geriatric medicine at the Sticht Center for Healthy Aging and Alzheimer’s Prevention at Wake Forest School of Medicine in Winston-Salem, North Carolina  said:

“These results suggest that combining exercise with modest calorie restriction – as opposed to more intensive calorie restriction or no calorie restriction – likely maximizes the benefits on vascular health, while also optimizing weight loss and improvements in body composition and body fat distribution,” Brinkley said. “The finding that higher-intensity calorie restriction may not be necessary or advised has important implications for weight loss recommendations to improve cardiovascular disease risk in older adults with obesity.”

Eating nuts gives your heart a healthy boost

Many people only eat peanuts (which are not a true nut). Others only eat nuts at particular social events, such as Christmas. But researchers have found that nuts  benefit heart health. A study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association concluded categorically:

“Increasing total consumption of nuts and intake of individual types of nuts (eg, walnuts, other tree nuts, and peanuts) was associated with a subsequent lower risk of CVD [cardiovascular disease].”

Eating nuts is beneficial for many reasons. Check out this short YouTube video I made:

Exercise is important for your heart

If you take regular exercise, it will speed up your basal metabolic rate. This means that you will burn more calories. This happens for some time afterwards as well.

You may think that you have to exercise hard to have an effect. But it’s enough just to take exercise that leaves you warm and breathing heavily. If you are still able to hold a conversation, you are not working hard enough.

Exercise doesn’t have to be complicated or expensive. You can start walking more. You could spend some time each day going up flights of stairs at home or in your office. You can workout at home, using free online videos. You can start biking or dancing. The important thing is to do more exercise, more often.

Read my blog post on how to exercise even if you hate it.

How does poor quality sleep affects the heart

Poor quality sleep – not enough or broken nights – can contribute to long-term heart problems.

The influential CDC says:

“Sleep is not a luxury. It is critical to good health. Sleep helps your body repair itself. Getting enough good sleep also helps you function normally during the day.” via How Does Sleep Affect Your Heart Health? | Features | CDC

The Sleep Foundation says:

“Sleep is essential for a healthy heart. People who don’t sleep enough are at higher risk for cardiovascular disease and coronary heart disease—regardless of age, weight, smoking and exercise habits. Getting enough good quality sleep is important if you want to lower you risk of these conditions.

“It’s not completely clear why less sleep is detrimental to heart health, but researchers understand that sleeping too little causes disruptions in underlying health conditions and biological processes like glucose metabolism, blood pressure, and inflammation.”  via How Sleep Deprivation Affects Your Heart | National Sleep …

Giving up smoking benefits heart health

is likely to have a dramatic effect on your heart. Carbon monoxide is produced when you smoke cigarettes. It attaches to red blood cells. If you smoke, half your blood can be carrying carbon monoxide rather than oxygen. No wonder many smokers are breathless! Giving up smoking means lots of other good changes happen to your body too. It can be daunting to give up, so read this blog post for some ideas on how to do it.

The Heart Foundation says:

“Smoking damages the blood vessels leading to your heart, brain and other parts of your body. This makes you four times more likely to die of heart attack or stroke and three times more likely to die from sudden cardiac death.

If you can’t give up, the Heart Foundation says:

“To protect the health of your family and friends, stop smoking inside your home, car and other enclosed places. “

The European Society of Cardiology says:

Stopping smoking is potentially the most effective of all preventive measures, with substantial reductions in heart attacks or death. The CVD risk in smokers under 50 years of age is five-fold higher than in non-smokers.

Can a plant-based diet be good for your heart?

The Plant-Based Health Professionals UK website says:

” High blood pressure is … the single most important risk factor for cardiovascular disease and related disability and increases the risk of stroke, ischaemic heart disease and heart failure… Plant-based diet patterns are able to lower blood pressure in individuals with hypertension to a greater extent than most blood pressure lowering medications.”

Is dental health important for heart health?

And, if you don’t already, start flossing your teeth. This may seem a bizarre piece of advice. But there appears to be a link between gum disease and heart disease. The exact mechanism isn’t understood fully yet. We do know that flossing your teeth and having regular dental checks is important for your general health.

Health Central says:

“Past studies show that poor oral health can lead to inflammation in the body. It happens in a chain reaction. Bad dental hygiene can lead to bacteria depositing in your bloodstream, and that bacteria triggers your body’s immune response. Next, inflammation ups the risk of other problems, including Afib [atrial fibrillation] and heart failure.”

Josefine Hirschfeld, Academic Clinical Lecturer in Restorative Dentistry, University of Birmingham writes:

“The aim of brushing our teeth is to reduce as much plaque on each tooth as possible.

“Current evidence suggests that spending more time brushing – up to four minutes each time you brush – leads to cleaner teeth. This longer brushing time means we can more effectively clean our teeth and get those hard-to-reach places.

“But be careful not to brush too often (such as more than two times a day) and avoid brushing hard or using abrasive toothpastes and brushes, as this can also cause damage to our teeth and gums – especially when using a toothbrush with hard bristles or abrasive toothpastes.”

Reducing stress can reduce your risk of having heart problems

This can seem a difficult thing to do. The more stressed we are the more difficult it becomes to think of reducing our stress levels.

Harvard Health emphasises how many health issues are impacted by stress:

“Constant stress — whether from a traffic-choked daily commute, unhappy marriage, or heavy workload — can have real physical effects on the body. It has been linked to a wide range of health issues, including mood, sleep, and appetite problems — and yes, even heart disease. Doctors don’t know exactly how chronic stress affects the heart. “

Read my post on a simple way to reduce stress.

Christmas day is the most common day of the year in the USA for heart attacks to happen. ( Healthline). Check out my blog post on dealing with stress at family events.

We also know that taking exercise is good for our stress levels. Does that make you groan? Then check out my blog post on doing exercise when you hate it.

Or read this blog post on evidence-based ways to reduce stress in your life.

Give and receive love to benefit your heart

The scientific evidence isn’t there (yet) for how important this is for our hearts. Researchers know that people who have loving relationships also tend to have long and happy lives.

Christopher Suhar, MD, a cardiologist and director of Scripps Center for Integrative Medicine, says:

“I think having love in your life is paramount to living a healthy lifestyle,” That love can come from many different sources: marriage, a partner, siblings, parents, friends or a pet. The goal is gaining peace through love, which decreases stress and anxiety in your life and benefits your heart.” via How Does Love Affect Your Heart? – Scripps Health

Signs your heart is healthy

Dr. Jesús Peteiro, a cardiologist at University Hospital A Coruña, Spain says:

“The stairs test is an easy way to check your heart health. If it takes you more than one-and-a-half minutes to ascend four flights of stairs, your health is suboptimal, and it would be a good idea to consult a doctor.”

The British Heart Foundation has information on many aspects of keeping your heart healthy. Visit their web site for more information.