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Surprising Factors for a Healthy Heart

Now that Valentine’s Day is wrapped, it's time to focus on other matters of the heart, like heart health. There is a lot you can do to optimize the health of one of your most important organs, and some of it is quite surprising.

Don’t wait until you start to have a problem, start cultivating these practices into your life now to keep your heart going on and on.

The Basics

There are a few tried and tested ways of maintaining optimum health that you have probably heard over and over and over again. But that is because this is your foundation. These are hands down the most important factors for your heart health and so they are worth repeating again.

  • EAT A BALANCED DIET - Maintaining a healthy and balanced diet is the key to your overall health and is especially important for heart health.
  • EXERCISE REGULARLY - Aim to get at least 30 mins of moderate to vigorous physical activity 3-4 times per week to keep your heart in optimal condition.
  • GET UP - The average North American sits for around 12 hours/day. Sitting is detrimental to your health even if you are a physically active person. Find ways to get up regularly throughout your day such as frequent stretch breaks, walking meetings, or a walking desk. Heck, have a mini dance party every few hours, whatever it takes to decrease your sedentary time.
  • BUTT OUT - Smoking and exposure to second-hand smoke. Cigarettes are one of the top risk factors in heart disease in North America. Even being exposed to second-hand smoke increases your risk of heart disease by 25-30 percent.
  • MAINTAIN A HEALTHY WEIGHT - Excess weight puts a higher strain on your heart and is particularly detrimental around your waist. Research has linked excess belly fat with an increased risk of high blood pressure and therefore increased strain on the heart.
  • BE CAREFUL WITH YOUR BLOOD PRESSURE - High blood pressure is the number one risk factor for stroke and a major risk factor for heart disease.

Take it to the Next Level

Alright, here’s where it gets a little surprising. Some of these tips for heart wellness are not what you’d expect and some are valuable ways to build on your solid foundation I talked about in the last section.

  • MAINTAIN GOOD MENTAL & EMOTIONAL HEALTH - Depression is an independent risk factor for the development of both coronary artery disease and stroke, meaning you really could die from a broken heart! Chronic stress, anxiety, and anger can raise your risk of heart disease and stroke.
  • MANAGE STRESS - Stress, in particular, takes a toll on your heart due to increased cortisol levels. Practice stress management techniques such as yoga, deep breathing and meditation. Also support your stress glands (the adrenal glands), with  and herbs such as 
  • TAKE CARE OF YOUR MOUTH - Studies continue to link poor oral hygiene and gum disease to increased risk for heart disease and stroke.
  • FUR BABIES- Studies have shown that owning a pet can reduce your risk for heart disease. Yes, this is your permission slip to get a puppy.
  • REDUCE INFLAMMATION - Inflammation is a major factor in the development of many diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, allergies, cancer, and Alzheimer’s disease. Avoid inflammatory foods such as sugar, red meat, processed food, dairy, gluten, caffeine, and alcohol. It’s also a good idea to increase your intake of anti-inflammatory spices such as , oregano, cinnamon, rosemary, and ginger.
  • EAT HEART HEALTHY FOODS - Dark, leafy greens, berries, healthy fats, nuts and seeds, fish, and legumes and dark chocolate are rich in flavonoids and antioxidants that help to reduce inflammation and decrease the risk of developing heart disease. It’s also a good idea to eat plenty of soluble fibre, such as in beans, fruit, and oats, which is shown to help reduce bad cholesterol.
  • DID SOMEONE SAY CHOCOLATE? - Yes, moderate amounts of dark chocolate support heart health through anti-inflammatory effects. Add this to the top of your gratitude list.
  • FIND YOUR SLEEP SWEET SPOT - Not enough sleep, and also too much sleep is linked with adverse effects on your heart. Find the sweet spot that is optimal for you, which is usually around 7-9 hours.
  • LAUGH - According to research, laughing lowers stress hormones, decreases inflammation in your arteries, and raises your levels of good cholesterol.
  • HAVE SEX & SNUGGLE - Having sex is good for your heart! Not only does it provide physical activity, but it is also linked to lower blood pressure and decreased risk of cardiovascular disease. Oh, and be sure to snuggle up after because the “cuddle hormone” oxytocin also helps to reduce blood pressure.
  • HEART SUPPORTING SUPPLEMENTS - There are a few powerful supplements that can go a long way in supporting your heart health. High-Quality fish oil can help ward off heart disease.Combining both Vitamin C and Lysine is great for reducing inflammation and preventing arterial plaque. CoQ10 and Magnesium are popular heart supportive supplements that are not to be forgotten and, in my opinion, are fundamentals for the prevention and treatment of heart disease.

Let this article remind you that health is a holistic experience. Our bodies are systems and everything is connected from your spirit to your emotions, to your physical health, to your habits, to your nutrition. Choosing your wellness can look like many things, and this month it looks a lot like love. Love and connection play a significant role in our heart and overall health, so action item number one is: reach out to someone you love, near, far, wherever they are.

Happy Heart Month!