How to Supercharge Your Heart Health
What do you do to look after your heart health?
(And before you ask, no, crying while watching your favourite rom-com doesn’t count).
I’m talking about your cardiovascular health.
You can watch a video about how to Supercharge Your Heart Health below.
Why should you look after your heart?
The cardiovascular system contains the heart, blood vessels and blood. It’s responsible for transporting nutrients around the body and pumping blood. Unfortunately, heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women, and with World Heart Day just around the corner, there’s never been a more crucial time to pay attention to your heart health.1
So, what can you do to start supercharging your heart health today?
How to supercharge your heart health:
- Eat more fruit and vegetables.
Let’s start with a good old fashion favourite: fruit and vegetables. Diets based predominantly on fruit and vegetables are linked to a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease. Fruit and vegetables help reduce low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol (what some people call ‘bad cholesterol’) and decrease blood pressure, which is crucial for a healthy heart.2
I recommend aiming for at least five vegetables and two pieces of fruit a day.
- Focus on fibre.
Whole grains and plants offer an incredible source of dietary fibre, which is associated with a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease and lowered LDL cholesterol. In one research study, those who increased their fibre intake by 7g/day reduced their risk of developing cardiovascular disease by 9%.3 *Panic eats twelve cucumbers and ten bowls of porridge. *
You should be aiming for at least 30g of fibre every day.
Include a variety of fibre sources throughout your day.
Some of my favourites are:
- Flax seeds
- Chia seeds
- Psyllium husk
3. Make healthy fat choices.
Fat has undoubtedly got a bad rap in the past, but more people are becoming open to introducing good fats into their diet. While eating saturated fat and trans fats, found in processed foods, like processed meats, fried foods, and desserts, can raise blood cholesterol, unsaturated fats have the opposite effect.
Opt for unsaturated fats in polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats, which help lower blood cholesterol and inflammation.5 You can find these in oily fish like salmon and mackerel, extra virgin olive oil, walnuts, flax seeds, and avocado.
4. Reduce alcohol.
I hate being a party-pooper, but excess alcohol consumption remains a significant risk factor for cardiovascular disease.6 While in healthy adults, consuming low-to-moderate amounts of alcohol has no short-term impacts on blood pressure, binge drinking* increases your risk of heightened blood pressure and cardiovascular disease.7
The UK Dietary Guidelines recommends that healthy men and women drink no more than 14 units a week on a regular basis. 14 units is equivalent to 6 pints of average-strength beer or 10 small glasses of low-strength wine. But the less you choose to drink, the lower your risk of harm from alcohol.
5. Use herbs and spices instead of salt.
If you ask most people how they add flavour to food, they usually reply with salt. Don’t get me wrong, a little bit of salt is okay, but too much salt can lead to elevated blood pressure, which is a risk of heart disease and stroke. The NHS recommends a maximum daily amount of 6g of salt, which is about a teaspoon.
I recommend swapping out your salt for herbs and spices to add extra flavour without the sodium hit. If you’re looking for inspiration to build up your spice rack, you can check out mine here.
6. Move more.
Do you like to move it? Regular exercise has a favourable effect on cardiovascular disease, promoting a healthy weight, reducing LDL cholesterol and total cholesterol, and improving high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol (our ‘good’ cholesterol).8 Plus, exercise releases happy hormones that boost our mood and reduce stress.
Try to include a mix of moderate movement like walking, resistance-style training like weights, Pilates or vinyasa yoga, and aerobic activity such as jogging, swimming, boxing, or dancing. Mixing up your movement and doing activities you enjoy is a one-stop ticket to excellent mental health too!
7. Mental health.
Speaking of mental health, let’s take a deep breath in, and a deep exhale out.
The influence our mental health has on our heart is unquestionable, with intense experiences of stress increasing the risk of developing cardiovascular disease (which is not a fact you want to hear mid-pandemic)9.
I recommend writing yourself a self-care tool kit and taking it out when you feel stress coming on.
Things in my self-care toolkit include:
- Box breathing: take a deep breath in four seconds, hold the breath for four seconds, take a deep exhale for four seconds, and hold the breath out for four seconds. Repeat.
- Laugh: watch a comedy special on TV, call your funniest friend or listen to a podcast that brings the lol’s.
- Movement: move your body in a way that makes you feel good. For me, that’s walking and yoga.
- Water: cool water is a great circuit breaker. Try a cool shower or jump in the ocean if you can!
8. Regular medical check-ups.
High blood pressure, elevated body mass index (BMI), raised cholesterol, and increased blood pressure increases your risk of developing heart disease. I recommend getting regular check-ups and tests to give you a greater understanding of your health status.
9. Get social.
Over six decades of research has proven that the absence of social connection increases the risk of cardiovascular disease.10 On top of that, not having a social network worsens the prognosis of people with cardiovascular disease.
Unfortunately, socialising can seem a little bit challenging with the current lockdown, but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible. I recommend going for a walk with a friend within your radius, organising a time to catch up with a loved one over the phone or planning a Zoom trivia night. Even having a quick chat with your barista while you wait for your chai is an excellent way to stay connected.
Set realistic goals.
Don’t go hard on yourself! Taking small, maintainable steps is the only way to create lasting change. So, why not start with making a delicious and straightforward anti-inflammatory special?
My Heart Healthy Elixir is full of healthy fats, veggies, and fruit, perfect for a healthy heart.
Heart Healthy Elixir
Here’s a great heart- healthy elixir that cardiologists recommend for their patients. It contains ingredients that will help boost your heart health, regulate your blood pressure and keep your arteries functioning well.
- 1 TBS flaxseed
- ½ apple chopped
- ½ cup frozen raspberries (or fresh)
- ½ cup frozen blackberries (or fresh)
- ¼ avocado
- Handful of kale
- 1 cup water
- ¼ cup of Kefir or plain yoghurt
Place everything together in your blender and blend until smooth and creamy.
If you’re looking for a heart friendly dinner recipe, my Ginger Seared Tuna with Avocado Mash is full of healthy fats, veggies, and protein, perfect for a healthy heart.
Ginger Seared Tuna with Avocado Mash
- 1 teaspoon sesame oil
- 5 cm (1 inch) knob of fresh ginger, peeled and cut into matchsticks
- 4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
- 2 tuna steaks
- 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra for drizzling
- 45 g cooked shelled edamame beans
- 1 large handful of mint or coriander (cilantro) leaves, to serve
- 2 tablespoons sesame seeds, toasted, to serve (optional)
Avocado, Pea and Mint Smash
- 75 g (2 1/2 oz/ 1/2 cup) fresh peas or thawed frozen peas
- 1 handful of mint leaves
- finely grated zest and juice of 1 lime
- 1 ripe avocado, chopped
- 1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
- pinch of chili flakes (optional)
Heat the sesame oil in a frying pan over medium heat. Sauté the ginger and garlic for a few minutes until golden, then remove to a small bowl.
Brush the tuna steaks with the olive oil and season with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. Add them to the pan and fry for 2–3 minutes on each side, until cooked to your liking.
Meanwhile, to make the avocado, pea and mint smash, cook the peas until just tender, then place in a bowl, add the remaining ingredients, and roughly mash or crush with a fork. Season to taste.
Serve the tuna steaks on a bed of the avocado and pea smash, drizzled with a little olive oil, garnished with the sautéed ginger and garlic, and topped with the edamame beans, herbs, and sesame seeds.
1Stewart, J., Manmathan, G., & Wilkinson, P. (2017). Primary prevention of cardiovascular disease: A review of contemporary guidance and literature. JRSM cardiovascular disease, 6, 2048004016687211. https://doi.org/10.1177/2048004016687211
2Kahleova, H., Levin, S., & Barnard, N. (2017). Cardio-Metabolic Benefits of Plant-Based Diets. Nutrients, 9(8).
3Threapleton D E, Greenwood D C, Evans C E L, Cleghorn C L, Nykjaer C, Woodhead C et al (2013). Dietary fibre intake and risk of cardiovascular disease: systematic review and meta-analysis. BMJ 347 :f6879 doi:10.1136/bmj.f6879
4Dietary Fibre, Nutrient Reference Values for Australia and New Zealand, National Health and Medical Research Council.
5 Hannon, B. A., Thompson, S. V., An, R., & Teran-Garcia, M. (2017). Clinical Outcomes of Dietary Replacement of Saturated Fatty Acids with Unsaturated Fat Sources in Adults with Overweight and Obesity: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Randomized Control Trials. Annals of Nutrition and Metabolism, 71(1–2), 107–117.
6 Piano M. R. (2017). Alcohol’s Effects on the Cardiovascular System. Alcohol research: current reviews, 38(2), 219–241.
7 The pressor and metabolic effects of alcohol in normotensive subjects. Potter JF, Watson RD, Skan W, Beevers DG. Hypertension. 1986 Jul; 8(7):625-31.
8Myers, J. (2003). Exercise and Cardiovascular Health. Circulation, 107. https://doi.org/10.1161/01.CIR.0000048890.59383.8D
9De Hert, M., Detraux, J., & Vancampfort, D. (2018). The intriguing relationship between coronary heart disease and mental disorders. Dialogues in clinical neuroscience, 20(1), 31–40. https://doi.org/10.31887/DCNS.2018.20.1/mdehert
10lbus C. (2010). Psychological and social factors in coronary heart disease. Annals of medicine, 42(7), 487–494. https://doi.org/10.3109/07853890.2010.515605