The human heart is intrinsically associated with love. While its main function is to pump blood through our body, we tend to see it as the instrument responsible for a person's romance, passion, desire, and even relationships. But whether we view it purely in terms of its physical function or psychological significance, there’s one universal truth about the human heart: it needs our love, too.
But how do we give love to our heart? Experts say that we should start by examining our daily habits and lifestyle. From there, we can make the necessary changes because no matter how simple the habit is, it can make a difference in our heart health. Dr. Jerie Tan, a cardiologist at Muntinlupa Hospital, cited the case of obesity as an example.
“The problem of obesity goes far beyond a person's waistline,” says Tan. Obese and overweight people are also at greater risk for a number of heart-related problems, including high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and diabetes. In fact, according to the American Heart Association (AHA), even without any of these other risk factors, obesity by itself increases the risk of heart disease.
To improve your heart health, here are some simple strategies to turn your lifestyle around, one healthy habit at a time.
Wake up with gratitude, embrace positivity
A good heart health starts in the mind. According to the AHA, mental stress is likely to increase blood pressure, which in turn, can worsen our heart health. “Stress can raise the level of certain hormones and rev up the sympathetic nervous system responsible for activating the fight or flight response," Tan explains.
To set the course of the day, try a mental technique called gratitude upon waking up. This will remind you of all the good things in your life, even before you start getting overwhelmed by the tasks of the day. "Like a glass half full, learning how to be grateful can help put stress into perspective,” says Donabelle Palaskwa, PsyD, a psychology professor at the University of Baguio.
Stretch out far and wide, move that hard-to-hit muscle
Try a few basic stretches to loosen up your muscles and joints after lying down for a long period of time. Although stretching does not have a direct effect on the heart, "it helps the body's muscles, tendons, ligaments, and joints reduce the risk of injury, soreness, aches, and pains during exercise," says Marisa Ng, Ed.D, a physical therapist at Marikina rehab facility. "This will allow you to do more aerobic and resistance exercise at a higher pace for a longer time because you would not be limited by your musculoskeletal system," she adds.
Start with light yoga, end with aerobic exercise
The result from a study conducted for Sweden participants with a heart problem called atrial fibrillation showed that the latter reported a significantly lower blood pressure and heart rate after 12 weeks of doing yoga. “Yogic breathing can also help regulate heart rate and improve respiratory function” claims Ng.
After a short yoga session, the AHA recommends doing at least 30 minutes of moderate aerobic activity. It can be done for at least five days a week.
"It lowers blood pressure, blood glucose levels, blood cholesterol levels, and body fat as well as reduces inflammation, and more. It also has direct beneficial effects on the heart's pumping efficiency. It also helps the ability of the blood vessels throughout the body to improve overall circulation by allowing the blood being pumped by the heart to flow more easily,” explains Tan.
Do not reach for bacon, expand your protein options
Pair fruits with a cup of low-fat Greek yogurt to help reduce blood pressure and produce heart health benefits. "The protein from the yogurt helps fight hunger and cravings throughout the morning,” says Michelle Carte, a registered nutritionist in a local diet center.
Egg whites are another protein-packed option although most experts recommend a vegetarian or vegan diet for heart health. Adding the whole grains and vegetables to the meal provides an added source of soluble fiber and antioxidants to further improve diet.
Take farther parking slots, go for long walks during breaks
“Take the stairs, park farther away, walk the extra block," Ng says. Structured exercise is great, but if you work out for an hour and sit the rest of the day, that is still less healthy for your heart than just moving all throughout the day. Aim for a minimum of 10,000 steps per day.
Reset your mind after work, find a good stress reliever
Try listening to mood-boosting music if you're driving, or close your eyes and do some deep breathing if you are on a train or bus. If you are greeted by a pet when you get home, take the opportunity to indulge in some pet therapy. "Research shows that just looking into the eyes of your pet can lower your heart rate," Tan shares. This is due to the effects of the feel-good hormone oxytocin. You can also retreat to your bedroom before dinner to change your clothes and sneak in another quick breathing session to release the day's stress.
Relax into a heart-healthy bedtime routine, ditch your series subscription
Resist the urge to binge-watch your current Netflix obsession, and try to head to bed at the same time each night. "Heart-healthy activities include setting a regular bedtime to get into a good sleeping pattern," Tan says.
According to the National Sleep Foundation, people who don't sleep enough are at a greater risk for heart disease, possibly due to its effects on metabolism, blood pressure, and inflammation. While in bed, try a mindful reflection to help you relax into sleep. "Count your blessings instead of sheep," to return full-circle to the gratitude you practiced at the start of the day.