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Men's Health Series - The Healthy Heart

Cardiac health or cardiovascular health is the health of the heart and the blood vessels in the body. The human heart is located underneath the sternum and ribcage and between the two lungs. It is the most important muscle in the body because it works round the clock making it one of the hardest-working organs in the human body. It beats on average 75 times a minute. As the heart beats, it pumps blood and delivers oxygen and important nutrients to tissues all over the body.

The heart is a vital and sensitive organ and if it does not get the care it needs, serious cardiac problems can arise. Cardiovascular disease, also called heart disease, incorporates several kinds of conditions that may be influenced by heart and blood vessel conditions. There are several risk factors, medical conditions and lifestyle choices that lead to a higher risk of cardiac issues. For example:

  • High blood pressure

  • High Cholesterol

  • Unhealthy eating habits

  • Diabetes

  • Overweight and obesity

  • Physical inactivity

  • Excessive use of tobacco

  • Excessive alcohol use

There are several ways through which you can ensure good heart health. Healthy Lifestyle habits to improve heart health include eating right, staying active, reducing stress and getting sufficient good quality sleep on a daily basis.

1. Staying Physically Active and Fit

  • Exercise is extremely beneficial for cardiac health. However, it is important to choose the right type of exercises and perform them correctly within your individual capacity. The heart, like any other muscle in the body, needs work to stay strong. However, too much overload can make it worn out. Unlike other muscles, heart muscle fatigue can be fatal. Overuse and excessive training wears out the body and eventually the heart. It is important to avoid vigorous exercises that one is not trained for.

  • Regular cardio exercise can help lower your blood pressure, reduce your heart rate, and make your heart pump more effectively. Common types of cardio exercises include walking, running, cycling, dancing, swimming, etc. High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) can be beneficial for strengthening the heart muscles. It involves continuously raising and lowering your heart rate which improves vascular function. It also helps in burning more energy and makes the body more efficient at clearing fat and sugar from the blood.

  • Avoid sitting for over long periods of time. Sitting for long periods is thought to slow the metabolism, which affects the body's ability to regulate blood sugar, blood pressure and break down body fat. You might start by simply standing rather than sitting when you have the chance, or finding ways to walk while you work. Take a break from sitting every 30 minutes.

2. Healthy Eating Habits

  • Enjoying a wide variety of foods focused on fresh and unprocessed food can be good for the heart.

  • A diet naturally low in unhealthy fats, salt and added sugar, and rich in fibre, vitamins, minerals and healthy fats is ideal.

  • Eat plenty of vegetables, fruits and whole grains. They contain a variety of vitamins and minerals, as well as fibre and antioxidants. It can help prevent heart disease. Whole Grains are full of fibre and can help lower your cholesterol. Swapping from refined grains like white bread and white rice to whole grains like brown rice, oats, whole wheat, buckwheat, etc. is a simple change that can improve your diet.

  • Include a variety of healthy protein-rich foods. Animal sources of protein include meat, fish, chicken, eggs, milk, cheese, and yoghurt. Plant sources of proteins include legumes, pulses, nuts and seeds.

  • Choose foods with healthy fats such as avocados, olives, nuts and seeds.

  • Use healthy oils for cooking, for example, olive, canola, sunflower, peanut and soybean oil.

  • Reduce salt intake as too much salt may lead to high blood pressure, which is a risk factor for heart disease.

  • How much you eat is another important part of eating well for your heart. The size of our meals has grown over time. Eat the right portion size depending on your age, activity level and medical condition if any.

3. Other Healthy Lifestyle Habits

  • Follow good dental hygiene. Many studies have shown that bacteria in the mouth involved in the development of gum disease can move into the bloodstream and cause inflammation in the blood vessels. This may increase your risk for heart disease and stroke.

  • Avoid smoking and limit alcohol consumption. These can affect your heart negatively. They increase blood pressure and levels of triglycerides in the blood, which makes one more prone to stroke and congestive heart failure.

  • Manage stress levels as stress can put a lot of pressure on the heart. Yoga, Tai Chi and Meditation helps to reduce stress levels and in lowering blood pressure. This helps in making blood vessels more elastic, thereby improving heart health.

  • Sleep is critical and plays a key role in nearly all aspects of physical health. It provides time for the body to restore and recharge. Insufficient or fragmented sleep can contribute to problems with blood pressure and heighten the risk of heart disease, heart attacks, diabetes, and stroke. Ensure you get around 7 hours of quality sleep every night.

  • Stay well hydrated through the day. It helps the heart do its job and pump blood easily through the blood vessels to the muscles. This in turn helps the muscles work more effectively.

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