Simple healthy heart habits you can start now
Statistics show two out of three Australian families are affected by cardiovascular conditions,1 yet heart health can often be managed through simple lifestyle changes.
So what are the key habits we can easily cultivate for a healthy heart? You won’t be surprised to learn that it all boils down to two things: exercise and diet. Read on for the lowdown.
How to protect your heart through exercise
Your heart is a muscle, just like any other, and to stay fit and healthy it needs to be regularly exercised. Just think about how your body adapts and improves, becoming stronger and more toned the more you exercise. The exact same logic applies to your heart. Daily use isn’t enough: it needs to be challenged to adapt. The more you exercise your heart, the stronger it becomes and the lower the risk of developing problems further down the track.
Healthy habit #1:
Just 30 minutes of moderate intensity exercise a day, most days of the week, is considered sufficient physical activity to promote better heart health. Depending on your individual fitness levels, aim for a 7 out of 10 for effort (6 if you haven’t exercised in a while). If you’re using a Fitbit or heart rate monitor, this equates to about 60-70 per cent and is what’s known as the aerobic conditioning zone.
If 30 minutes in one burst sounds a little daunting, try splitting it over the course of the day. A 10 minute power walk at lunchtime followed by a 20 minute cycle in the afternoon still counts towards the 30 minute daily total. Remember, this is just the minimum to protect your heart: you may notice an improvement to your fitness level and extra health benefits if you partake in more vigorous exercise for longer than 30 minutes a day. How to protect your heart through diet The typical Western diet of rich and processed foods that are high in sodium, trans and saturated fats is one of the biggest contributory factors to poor heart health, particularly here in Australia.2 Saturated fats, which include whole milk dairy products, fatty cuts of meat and some vegetable oils, raise the level of cholesterol in your blood, and subsequently impact heart health. Also, too much salt can lead to high blood pressure, which may cause damage to the vital arteries leading to the heart.
Healthy habit #2 & #3:
Reducing your salt intake and replacing unhealthy fats with unsaturated alternatives are the first steps to protecting your heart. Just remember, everything in moderation: they may be called ‘good fats’ but that doesn’t mean you should consume them to excess!
To maintain a healthy heart, your diet should be no more than 7 per cent saturated fat. If you suspect you’re falling short of that target, you’re not alone. The average Australian’s diet is around 12 per cent saturated fat – almost double the recommended intake. However, just by making a few simple changes to your eating habits, you can drastically reduce your consumption of bad fats and give your heart health a boost.
Still not sure what should be on your shopping list? Here’s a quick guide:
Choose more often:
- Eggs and lean meats like chicken and turkey
- Oily fish like salmon and tuna which contain good fats
- Olive, canola and sunflower oil
- Unsalted nuts and seeds
- Spices to add flavour instead of salt
Choose less often:
- Red, fatty meats and processed meats like salami, bacon and sausages
- Butter, cheese and whole milk dairy products (choose low fat versions if you do consume)
- Biscuits, cakes and most pre-packaged baked goods
- Palm oil, coconut milk and coconut oil – while it’s often marketed as a health food, coconut oil is 92 per cent saturated fat!
- Ready-made sauces – they’re almost always high in sodium and sugar
Five more healthy heart habits to start today
1. Give up smoking. Smoking is a major risk factor for cardiovascular conditions, so speak to a healthcare professional for advice on how to quit, and your heart will thank you for it.
2. Stay within the guidelines for alcohol consumption. It is recommended that Australian adults consume no more than two standard drinks a day. Alcohol can cause high blood pressure, irregular heart rhythm and prolonged heart damage so try and drink in moderation.
3. Become a label reader. When you do the weekly grocery shop actively check the nutrition information. Try and opt for foods that contain less than 10% of saturated fat per 100g and less than 120mg of sodium per 100g. However, a more achievable goal is under 400mg of sodium per 100g – but these foods should be occasional rather than every day. Ingredients lists that include trans fats or hydrogenated vegetable oils should also be avoided.
4. Give your heart a helping hand. Take a daily supplement like Bio Organics Glycemix CoQ10 & Alpha Lipoic Acid to help reduce oxidative stress and support heart health. Remember, it’s important to follow the instructions on the label. Seek direction from your Pharmacist or GP to confirm recommended intake.
5. Get your 30 minutes a day. It’s much easier than you might think. Walk or cycle to work instead of driving, do some gentle stretches while watching TV, take the dog for a walk or throw a ball around with the kids.