Exercise & Diet for Heart Health | World Heart Day


World Heart Day was celebrated recently, on the 29th of September. With the ever-increasing incidence of cardiovascular diseases, it is befitting that such a day is assuming a lot of importance, and many healthcare professionals are talking about heart health, the dos and the don’ts. I’m sure you know – improving heart health is not a one-day or a one-month task; it requires a structured, disciplined and scientific approach to lifestyle. Broadly, three main factors affect our heart health. They are – the food we eat, exercise (or the lack of it) and stress!

Food & Heart Health

Eating healthy isn’t just about eating a lot of vegetables, protein-rich food and cutting out carbohydrates. A healthy diet should be a balance of all nutrients. Apart from macronutrients like protein, fat and carbohydrates, your diet should be a good mix of antioxidants, vitamins and essential minerals. This is called a balanced diet. Make your plate very colourful with different types of vegetables or fruits. Antioxidants are the pigments that give fruits and vegetables their colour. They neutralise free radicals and reduce inflammation and keep our hearts healthy. Inflammation is long known to be the harbinger of many diseases including many cardiovascular diseases.

Reduce salt and sodium intake if you have high blood pressure (processed foods and sauces are rich in sodium). According to the American Heart Association, the safe limit of sodium for a patient with high blood pressure is 1.5 grams per day. To put that number into perspective – one teaspoon of table salt alone contains 2 grams of sodium!

Avoid reheating oil as it can increase blood cholesterol levels. Further, cut down on fried foods, especially food high in transfats or hydrogenated oils. Include omega-3 fatty acids in the diet, such as fish oil, flaxseeds etc to maintain healthy cholesterol levels in the blood. If you are overweight, lose some weight at a moderate calorie deficit, without crash dieting. It is extremely important that you don’t lose more than 4 kg in a month and don’t lose muscle mass while trying to lose weight. Eat within your calorie expenditure range – even the world’s healthiest food, if you overeat, will make you gain weight and increase your cholesterol levels.

Also Read: Cholesterol Myths & Facts

Exercises – How much is too much exercise?

Regular exercise plays a very important role in keeping cardiovascular diseases at bay. But the exercises should be logical & scientific. For example – Cardio exercises are good for heart health, but a person with congenital heart disease may be advised to abstain from such exercises. In case of such conditions, post-surgery, angioplasty or severe infections including covid, always seek the advice of your doctor before starting any form of exercise regimen.

It is very important that your exercise routine be regular, structured and scientific. For a beginner, 150 minutes of exercise per week is a great start. i.e – 30 mins every day, for 5 days in a week. A safe upper limit is 300 minutes of exercise every week, which amounts to 1 hour every day, for 5 days a week. The right amount of structured and scientific exercise plan helps in reducing inflammation, but excess exercise can do just the opposite and can even lead to events including heart attack. With regular, structured and scientific exercises, our body can even create collateral arteries to bypass blocked arteries. Monitor your heart rate while exercising – the safe upper limit of heart rate, while exercising is 80% x (220 – Age). 

A good mix of weight training, cardio and yoga are always best for overall health. These exercises should be tailored to each person’s needs, age, physical conditions and ailments if any. Incorporate yoga and meditation into the daily routine, as it helps immensely to lower blood pressure and heart rate!

Also Read: Walking is NOT an Exercise. Here is why!

We live in a world where it is difficult to stay away from mental stress. This stress causes a lot of inflammation in our bodies. Even the air we breathe is sometimes toxic and filled with vehicle exhaust which adds to this inflammation. Many of the fruits and vegetables we buy outside are laden with toxic pesticides, which also cause inflammation. Additionally, habits such as lack of exercise, lack of sleep, smoking, and stress can exacerbate this inflammation in our bodies. Make it a habit to sleep for at least 8 hours every night.

Managing Stress

Deep Abdominal Breathing (DAB), also known as Diaphragmatic Breathing is very helpful to keep stress at bay and reduce heart rate and blood pressure. To practice DAB, sit on a chair, spine erect and take a steady and deep breath for 3 seconds. Make sure the entire lungs get filled with oxygen, pushing the diaphragm down and thus your belly bulges out a bit. Breathe out for 4-5 seconds as you notice the belly comes in. Make sure the upper chest movement is minimal as you breathe in and out. Practice such deep abdominal breathing for 10 minutes every morning and evening, and you will be surprised to see your heart rate and blood pressure settling down, and calming yourself of the anxiety and stress!

Also Read: How to perform DAB?

Routine Checkups

A stitch in a time saves nine! It is highly advised to do routine health checkups, especially after 30 years of age. Simple blood work-up that involves hba1c, fasting lipid profile, blood pressure, kidney function test, urine analysis etc is recommended at least once in a year. According to various research studies, South Asians are genetically more prone to various cardiovascular diseases, high cholesterol and plaque build-up in arteries, high insulin resistance etc. Advanced checkups such as TMT & Echocardiogram should be hence included once in 5 years, after turning 40 years of age. A healthy lifestyle that is sustainable and enjoyable is your long-term bet to ward of lifestyle diseases.

Don’t lose your heart!

Lose cigarettes, lose junk food, lose weight.

Loosen up and move!

Here is wishing you and your family a healthy and happy heart day, filled with love!

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