Are you hurting or helping your heart?

When it comes to body parts your body can’t do without, the heart is king. But if you’re like many people, you may be treating your beloved heart like an ignored servant. How can you make sure your heart receives a royal welcome? By eating right.

We have a lot of clients that come to us with heart conditions and the numbers seem to be getting higher and higher every year. Years ago, it was the oddity to have mild to severe heart conditions but it is becoming much too common these days. Knowing is half the battle.

First, it’s a good idea to know what heart-healthy eating actually is. Contrary to popular belief, a diet that is heart healthy isn’t going to keep you from eating anything with flavour. You’re not going to be miserable while on a heart-healthy diet. Actually, you shouldn’t go on a heart-healthy diet – at least not one that lasts for a few months and fades away with your New Year’s resolutions. Rather, you should maintain heart-healthy eating habits every day of the year.

The simplest recipe for heart-healthy eating habits is to go organic and all-natural. Most foods you find in nature and eat in their raw or cooked forms are very good for you and many of them actively work to strengthen your heart. On the other hand, manmade foods that are highly processed or infused with chemicals and preservatives that add flavour and fat often put your heart in harm’s way.

Bad fats and cholesterol can be very dangerous to your heart health. Hence why you should avoid them as much as possible. However, since it’s nearly impossible to rid your diet entirely of all types of fats and cholesterol, you’ll need to choose your battles wisely.

Battles worth fighting in the fat realm are those battles against saturated fat and trans fat. By reading food labels and reducing the amount of butter and other fatty products you eat on a regular basis, you can sidestep the majority of these dangerous fats. Instead of saturated and trans fats, look for foods that contain monounsaturated fats or polyunsaturated fats. Believe it or not, these fats may actually help lower your cholesterol. Simplified, not all fats are equal..there are good and bad. Stick with the good.

Reading food labels will also help you manage the amount of cholesterol you consume. Ideally, a healthy adult will consume no more than 300 milligrams of cholesterol each day. For even better health, try to get no more than 150 or 200 milligrams on a daily basis.

A third battle that is often overlooked is the ongoing battle against salt. Though it adds immediate flavour to anything you’re eating, salt also adds to your risk for high blood pressure. As high blood pressure is a key risk factor for heart disease, you ought to pay careful attention to how much salt you eat each day.

It is a rule of thumb that you should keep your salt intake to 2,500 mg or under (that’s only half a teaspoon — not much I know but that’s all the body can really handle and we overdose on it all the time). Some foods are naturally salty and have no need for you to add salt from the shaker. Taking a bite before adding salt may even help you enjoy the natural flavour of the food you’re eating. Over time, your saltshaker may be collecting dust in the pantry! Tip: Get rid of regular table salt for sea salt; much better for you.

In addition to eating heart-healthy foods, your heart gains extra protection against disease through regular exercise. Try your best to be active 30 minutes a day. Exercise should consist of strength training and cardio-boosting things like jogging, swimming, hiking, etc.

To keep your heart pumping strong, you should spend some time jogging around your neighbourhood, swimming laps in the pool, or riding your bicycle through the woods. For added protection, don’t smoke, avoid breathing second-hand smoke, and stay in contact with your physician to ensure the steps you are taking for a heart-healthy life are working.

Jack Wheeler is a personal trainer and owner of 360 Fitness in Red Deer. He can be reached at 403-347-1707 or check out www.360fitness.ca for more information.

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