A Guide To A Healthy Heart

February is American Heart Month!  You are probably wondering why that is so important . . . heart disease accounts for nearly one-third of all deaths worldwide.  Diet and exercise play a major role in heart health and can impact your risk of heart disease.  

The good news is that there are numerous foods you can eat and exercises you can do to keep your heart healthy.  Some popular items to put on your plate are leafy greens, salmon, and berries.  Two key types of exercises include aerobic and strength training.  And, the even better news is that we cover these exercises in our programming here at Townie!

Let’s dive into these foods . . .

Leafy green vegetables like spinach, kale, and collard greens are jam-packed with vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.  In particular, they are a great source of vitamin K, which helps protect your arteries, and they are also high in dietary nitrates, which have been shown to reduce blood pressure.

Salmon is a top food for heart health.  It is rich in omega-3s which are healthy fats that lower blood pressure.  Salmon is also high in potassium that helps reduce your risk of stroke.  A simple but tasty recipe idea is to bake salmon in foil with herbs and veggies.  When you add herbs to foods instead of salt and fat, you are adding flavor without the bad stuff.   Herbs are a delicious way to eat heart-smart.

Berries!  You can never get enough berries, and they are so appetizing!   Strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, and raspberries are rich in antioxidants which protect against inflammation that contributes to the development of heart disease.  Recipe idea – pair your berries with oatmeal.  Oat fiber can also help your heart by lowering bad cholesterol.

In combination with a balanced diet, being physically active is a major step toward good heart health.  It is one of the most effective ways to strengthen your heart muscle, keep your weight under control, and ward off artery damage that can lead to heart attack or stroke.

Ideally you want to get at least 30 minutes of aerobic exercise at least five days a week.  Aerobic exercise improves circulation which lowers blood pressure and heart rate.  It also reduces the risk of type 2 diabetes.  Examples of aerobic exercise include brisk walking, running, swimming, cycling, rowing, playing tennis, and jumping rope. 

Another effective type of exercise is strength training.  This exercise has a more specific effect on body composition and it can help reduce fat and create leaner muscle mass.  A combination of aerobic exercise and strength training may help raise HDL (good) cholesterol and lower LDL (bad) cholesterol.  Working out with free weights (barbells & dumb bells), working with resistance bands, or body-weight exercises (push-ups, air squats, pull-ups & chin-ups) are examples of strength-based movements.

What you put on your plate can influence just about every aspect of heart health from blood pressure and inflammation to cholesterol levels and triglycerides.  Including heart-healthy foods as part of a well-balanced diet along with exercise can keep your heart in good shape and minimize your risk of heart disease.

By Coach Toni Hinz

Townie Fitness & Nutrition Coach

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