By: Hayley Erdman Naturopathic Intern
February is Heart Health Awareness month. You know the basics for keeping your ticker up to speed: eat your fruits and veggies, exercise regularly, maintain a healthy weight and avoid smoking. After you’ve made these a part of your lifestyle, you might be wondering if there’s anything more you could be doing. You’re in luck! Here are some tips to keep you ahead of the curve when thinking about cardiovascular health:
- Are you an apple or a pear? Apple shaped individuals are those who tend to carry fat around their waist and stomach, while pear shaped individuals carry fat on their hips and thighs. People who are apple shaped are at an increased risk for having high blood pressure and high cholesterol, two risk factors for heart disease, as well as having a higher chance of developing type 2 diabetes. To see if you’re an apple or pear, measure your waist circumference: it should be less than 94cm in men (90cm in South Asian and Aboriginal individuals due to a higher genetic risk) and 80cm in women. If you find you’re at the higher end, focusing on healthy eating and weight loss may be the best goals for you.
- Eat like you’re by the sea – the Mediterranean, that is. The Mediterranean diet is one of the most powerful dietary models to reduce risk of heart disease and diabetes. This does NOT mean eating all the pizza and pasta you want! The Mediterranean diet emphasizes plant based foods (vegetables and fruits, legumes, nuts and seeds and a small amount of whole grains), fat intake from olive oil (used fresh, not in cooking), nuts and omega-3 rich fish, and small amounts of animal protein (poultry and fish with very limited red meat). When compared to a low-fat diet, one study found that individuals who ate a Mediterranean-style diet had a 50-70% lower risk of recurrent heart disease.
- Stress less. Easier said than done, right? This piece of the cardiovascular puzzle is an important one since stress can affect behaviours and factors that increase heart disease risk – when we are stressed we are more likely to eat poorly, avoid exercise and use stimulants like tobacco and excess caffeine and alcohol. Stressful situations increase the production of our fight and flight hormone adrenaline, which boosts our blood pressure. Finding downtime to relax, to plan for healthy meals and to schedule exercise into our schedule is key to a heart healthy life.
- Foods to include – so you’ve upped your veggies and fruit to 8 servings per day and embraced the Mediterranean lifestyle. Next, you could add a handful of almonds, a serving of oatmeal, garlic cloves, or organic soy foods to your repertoire. These foods help with increasing fibre intake and reducing LDL (the bad cholesterol that is associated with increased cardiovascular disease risk).
If you’re interested in making some changes to support your heart health or you have questions about how you can incorporate the tips above into your lifestyle, make an appointment with your ND.