Wellness Check

How to Eat and Exercise for a Healthy Heart

May 2023 | By Avery Mackin

How to Eat and Exercise for a Healthy Heart

The heart is an important muscle at the centre of not just our bodies, but our lives. We quite literally can’t live without it. Even though it is one of our most vital organs, we rarely give it the attention it deserves. Here is a bit of information on how you can keep your ticker in working order so it says strong and healthy for years to come.

Why is the Heart so Important?

When it comes to the heart, we can all agree on one thing: we need to keep it beating. However, we likely take it for granted. According to the Heart and Stroke foundation: Nine in ten Canadians have at least one risk factor for heart disease and stroke. But don’t fret, almost 80% of premature heart disease and stroke can be prevented through lifestyle changes. Read on for practical tips you can add to your daily routine.

Eat your Heart Out!

There is a common saying: You can’t outrun a bad diet. No matter what healthy behaviours you partake in, what you eat provides your body the building blocks it needs to keep your machine well running. Luckily, the majority of a heart healthy diet has not been hidden from us. We know that we should be filling up on lean protein, legumes, whole grains, fruits, and vegetables. 

When it comes to fat, things get a little more complicated. We often hear about the dangers of high cholesterol, which may cause us to steer away from all fat. Having high levels of trans or saturated fats can lead to spikes in LDL cholesterol, and put you at risk of high blood pressure, hardening of the arteries (atherosclerosis), heart attack and stroke. 

Like any other food group, the source and quality of the fats we have in our diet is very important. Make sure to incorporate a moderate portion of healthier, unsaturated fats (such omega 3s), found in fish, olive oil, nuts and avocado. This will help to balance the cholesterol in your body and acts as a preventative force against disease.

Additionally, making sure you are limiting overly processed foods, fried foods, refined carbs and high sodium. These foods can be connected to high blood pressure, chronic inflammation and hormone imbalances, all of which have negative effects on your heart.

The Best Movement is Any Movement

With the predominance of long commutes and desk-bound work environments, and the allure of screens dominating our lives, the prevalence of a sedentary lifestyle has been steadily on the rise. Unfortunately, these habits can have a huge impact on heart health. A review of studies published in 2015 in the Annals of Internal Medicine found: that even after adjusting for physical activity, sitting for long periods was associated with worse health outcomes, including heart disease. So what is the solution?

An image of 3 women taking a walkThis is where the small steps add up! There are so many easy changes to make that contribute to cardiovascular health. Take the stairs instead of the elevator, go for a small walk on your lunch break, get up and talk to a co-worker instead of sending an email, and plan an evening outing with your family instead of watching Netflix. Have fun adding small, but beneficial, habits to your daily routine, and the heart happy benefits will build up.

Want to go the extra mile? Add some heart specific exercise to your workout routine. Both Aerobic exercise and resistance training are great additions and can be incorporated in many different ways. Aerobic exercise improves your circulatory system and your heart’s output (how well it pumps). Resistance training improves your body composition, helping to trim fat and replace it for muscle, which has been shown to better balance good and bad cholesterol. Luckily, there are hundreds of ways to incorporate these exercises into your life, including Pilates, crossfit, weight training, and your favourite sports, like golf, walking, Pickleball and swimming.

But don’t be intimidated. The best exercise for your health is the exercise you love enough to do every day. The key is consistency. For example, if you know you can commit to a daily 15 minute walk, start there! Once you have created that healthy habit, then you can set goals to increase the intensity and duration moderately to get your heart rate up and gradually strengthen your muscles.

It’s Never Too Late

No matter where you are on your health journey, it is never too late to start making improvements. Luckily, once we’re in or approaching retirement, this can be the perfect opportunity to reevaluate and improve our diet and exercise habits, as we have more time to ourselves. The relationship between you and your heart’s health will last a lifetime, so take some time today to give the heart what the heart wants.