On a day devoted to the romantic beating of our heart, it’s also worth remembering that it actually keeps us alive, too.
Cardiovascular disease remains the leading cause of death globally for both men and women, so having a healthy heart is a life-long commitment, regardless of age, gender or nationality.
While we can’t be sure what the future holds for us, Dr Syed Sakib, specialist interventional cardiologist at Fakeeh University Hospital, says the secret to longer life lies in making simple, positive lifestyle changes.
“Balance is key,” says Dr Sakib. “Waking up every morning with a clear mindset after a good rest also helps to balance stress levels. All food categories within moderation have distinct benefits to the heart and a good diet will also make one feel more energetic and brain-focused.”
Smoking is proven to be one of the main causes of heart disease. Tobacco causes changes to the body by producing toxic substances and chemicals that negatively affect the blood vessels connected to the heart. The negative impact can be measured in both the short and long-term:
- Short-term: An immediate effect of smoking is the decrease of nitric oxide, a chemical compound in the human body that relaxes blood vessels and allows blood to flow.
- Long-term: Over time, toxins start causing changes within the blood vessels, activating unhealthy cells. These cells are prone to collating cholesterol from the blood within the blood vessel walls, causing a build-up and further reducing blood supply to the heart. This results in the heart beating faster and blood pressure increasing. Clots can also form, creating a blockage that reduces blood flow to important organs and other parts of the body, triggering a stroke.
Exercise, is extremely beneficial. It raises the heart rate, increasing blood flow which provides the heart with more oxygen and nutrients. Exercise also improves mental health and wellbeing as the body releases endorphins, a feel-good chemical that brings down stress levels.
Try as best as you can to not stress over small issues. Whether it is work-related, financial, or health-related, managing stress via deep breathing, relaxing your muscles and making time for breaks has a positive effect on the heart.
Stress is a mental state. More particularly, it is a negative mental state. It diminishes our happiness and peace of mind, causing anxiety and raised blood pressure by increasing the heart rate.
Find a hobby that relaxes you. It’s worth noting that studies have shown that pets help decrease the chances of having a heart attack or stroke by 33 percent. Consider fostering or adopting a pet.
Adopt or maintain a healthy diet
Having a healthy and balanced diet is key for heart health. Here’s how to keep it simple:
- Eat healthy fats derived from plants including avocado, nuts, seeds and beans every week
- Stick to eating only modest amounts of meat and cheese, as they also contain fat
- Fruits and vegetables that are high in sugar (fructose), such as grapes and mangoes, should also be eaten in moderation
- Citrus fruits are rich in many vitamins and a great way to boost your health
- Berries include significant amounts of antioxidants, which are extremely important in any diet
- Focus on vegetables with higher levels of fibre, like broccoli and greens
An individual should consume five portions of fruits and vegetables a day. A portion = a handful.
For example, this can include the following:
- Morning: an orange
- Snack: berries with yogurt
- Lunch: green salad
- Night: broccoli and spinach
- Bedtime: green apple