Heart Health and Happiness

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Written by Natalia Hnatiw

Your heart is one of the most important organs in your body. Without the heart pumping blood and life force to your organs, they would not be able to function. Since February is Heart Health Month, and with Valentine’s Day just around the corner, I think that it’s fitting to give our hearts the acknowledgement they deserve by doing things that keep them healthy.

What Keeps the Heart Happy?

Love! This may seem a little obvious but it can also be the most overlooked. Our hearts are made to love, truly and purely. When we love ourselves, we are able to love others. When we give with open hearts, the world opens up to us with endless opportunities.

Follow Your Heart: There is a reason why we are told to follow our hearts, it is where our intuition lies. When we feel joyous and excited about something, it is our hearts telling us that we are on the right path. When we feel dread or anxiety, or when our hearts actually hurt, it is a warning sign that what we are doing is not resonating with us and we need to re-evaluate our current situation.

Eat the Rainbow: It’s no surprise that we have to eat healthy to feel healthy and happy. No foods make the heart happier than nutrient dense, fresh fruits and vegetables. They vibrate at the highest frequency and thus, when consumed, keep us at a high frequency. They are also high in fibre, which helps to keep both our cholesterol and blood sugar balanced. Choose plenty of cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts and cabbage for a heart-healthy diet. Some of the best leafy greens to choose include romaine lettuce, green leaf lettuce, spinach, collard greens, and mustard greens. As for heart healthy fruit, citrus can be the most beneficial. Eating fruits such as lemons, limes, oranges, and grapefruits can make a big impact on your cardiac health. Overall, it’s important to have a lot of variety when it comes to filling your diet with fruits and vegetables. A colourful diet means you’re adding plenty of nutrients to your body.

Exercise: Like any other muscle in our body, our heart needs exercise to keep it happy and healthy. Exercise, especially the kind that increases our heart rate, is one of the best ways to keep our heart young and functioning optimally. Even things like brisk walking or taking the stairs can be beneficial in the long run. Remember that every bit counts. Skipping, stationary biking or hula hooping are fun ways to incorporate exercise into your daily life.

Manage Stress: Stress can have detrimental effects on the body and increases the risk of heart disease. Stress has a negative impact both on blood pressure and cholesterol. Minimizing our daily stressors can be challenging, therefore it is often more important to change the way we perceive stress, as it is our perception of it that can do the most damage. Unresolved emotions become stored in our body and when we do not resolve them, they manifest into health problems. If you are running late for something and there is nothing you can do about it, simply accept the situation and make a point of leaving earlier next time. Incorporating down time into your life, where you can focus on yourself, is also important. We need to find balance in everything we do. While we sometimes feel that we need to always be giving, we also need to be willing to take what we need and not feel guilty about it. So relax!

The Not-So-Sweet Truth About Sugar and Your Heart
While cardiologists have long warned patients about the dangers of a diet high in sodium and saturated fats, sugar has only recently been added to the list of dietary dangers. While I can go on and on about the negative affects that sugar has on our bodies, I will leave it for another article of its own. Here I will simply address the effects of sugar as it pertains to the heart.

A recent study in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) found that consuming increased amounts of sugar, especially in processed foods, can lower high-density lipoprotein cholesterol (good cholesterol) levels, while increasing triglyceride levels and (the bad) low-density lipoprotein cholesterol levels. This is because elevated blood glucose levels raise blood pressure and heart rate and interfere with the proper function of blood vessels, subsequently increasing the risk of heart disease and other heart problems down the line.

The Challenge
So which is the most harmful dietary danger, sodium, saturated fat or sugar? Does it really matter? In my opinion, if you are eating a predominantly plant-based diet, with organic animal protein used sparingly, while avoiding anything that comes in a box, you should be fine. It’s when we consume “foods” that have a closer relation to plastic than to something edible, that we begin to see problems. I think that we intuitively knew this at one point, but have been so bombarded with advertisements and media telling us what we should buy and what we should eat, that we have become so removed from nature and what real food should be.

So my challenge to you this Heart Health month is to stop and think anytime you’re about to eat something, and ask yourself, “How is this food nourishing me?” And if you can’t come up with an answer, maybe it’s time to rethink your eating habits. Remember that small changes over time can have the biggest impact. So if it’s cutting out the soda, decreasing your meat consumption or switching to organic produce, every little bit counts on your wellness journey.

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