How to Keep your Heart Healthy

How to prevent heart disease

Exercise and a healthy diet are critical factors for heart health. But what exactly should you be doing in these areas to ensure your ticker keeps on ticking? We’re so glad you asked – read on below for some practical exercise and dietary tips for heart health.

EXERCISE

Regular physical activity can help prevent heart disease and many others (stroke, metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes, depression, certain types of cancer and arthritis). Even if you’re past the point of prevention, an active and healthy lifestyle can help you manage and even reverse many of these diseases. The bottom line is that it’s never too late to start exercising and there are significant benefits to doing so.

As a general recommendation for heart health, we recommend to our clients they take upon a balanced approach – which includes blend of cardiovascular, strength, mobility, and flexibility exercises.  An hour workout 3-4 times per week works best for most people. Though not for everyone, here’s a collection of some of our top tips:

  1. Stretch – Stretch every major muscle in your body including quadriceps, hamstrings, calves, hip flexors, Iliotibial band (ITB), gluts, neck, neck and back. The Mayo Clinic has great basic instructions for stretching the major muscle groups. Hold each stretch for 15 to 60 seconds. *Stretching is great promote your flexibility and mobility, plus it can help to lower your blood-pressure by activating your parasympathetic nervous system.
  2. Cardio – If you currently have a sedentary lifestyle, gradually work up your cardio sessions to a minimum of 30 minutes per session, 3 times per week. The options are endless: hit the elliptical, treadmill or stationary bike at the gym, swim, jump rope, walk, bike, hike or run. In a pinch you can even climb the stairs in your home for a heart healthy energy boost. The bottom line is that any movement is good movement!
  3. Strength – If you don’t have any injuries or mobility limitations, we recommend you aim for 6 to 8 strength–training exercises that incorporate all major muscle groups a minimum of 2-3 times each week. When done correctly, weight training can help you lose fat, increase your strength and heart health as well as increase your muscle tone and improve bone density. It’s important that you begin a strength-training regime safely so, if you’re a beginner, consider contacting Nielsen Fitness for a free workout and assessment from a licensed, experienced trainer.
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A HEALTHY DIET

The second part of a complete approach to heart health is just as, if not more important than the first: a healthy diet.

Eating the right kinds of foods – and, just as importantly, avoiding the wrong kinds – will substantially decrease your risk of stroke and cardiovascular disease. It can also help prevent or manage Type 2 diabetes, cancer, coronary heart disease, bone loss and the development of kidney stones.

So, what does a heart healthy diet look like? There are several ways to think and answer this question. For our purpose today, we’ll look at what the Mayo Clinic recommends. Their eight steps to ensure you are consuming a healthy diet are:

  1. Control your portion size – do not overload your plate and take your time eating. It’s important to know what a portion looks like. Use your hands to measure portion size; one portion of chicken or pasta is the size of the palm of your hand, one portion of grains (choose whole!) is the size of your fist, and one serving of oils and fats is the size of your thumb. For more info on portion control, and some helpful visuals, click here.
  2. Eat plenty of vegetables and fruits – aim for nine servings per day. This may sound like a lot but if you keep them washed, cut and ready to eat as a quick snack, it can be super convenient. Colour and variety are the key when choosing your vegetables and fruits – dark green, yellow, and red are best.
  3. Eat whole grains – reduce your consumption of refined grain products like white bread and pasta and replace them with whole grains. Try whole-grain couscous, quinoa, barley, flaxseed, popcorn, oatmeal, or wild rice.
  4. Limit unhealthy fats – minimize saturated fat to less than 7% and trans fats to less than 1% of your total daily calories. For example, a sedentary female who is 31–50 years old needs about 2,000 calories each day. Therefore, she should consume a maximum of 15 g saturated fat, and 2 g trans-fat. Saturated fats are found in beef, veal, lamb, pork, whole dairy products, poultry skin. It is also important to avoid modified and hidden trans fats, which can still be found in junk food – this includes fried food, fast food, chips, cookies, doughnuts, and pastries. Note: Fat can still be your friend, so please talk to your local Dietician for the advice best for you.
  5. Consume low fat protein – some great lower fat options include skim milk, lean meat, poultry, fish, egg whites and legumes.
  6. Limit sodium intake – minimize sodium to 2,300 mg per day. Use herbs and spices to add flavour to your meals instead of salt and be aware of hidden salt in canned and processed foods. Ready-made food, bacon, olives, chips, bread, breakfast cereal and other convenience foods can have significant and surprising levels of salt.
  7. Plan ahead – implement a healthier diet by planning your meals and choosing a variety of healthy options to keep you energized throughout the day. Planning your meals and grocery shopping with a list make eating healthier so much easier.
  8. And finally, allow yourself an occasional treat. A planned indulgence once in a while will keep you motivated – we recommend a square or two of dark chocolate!

professional trainers can help!

As an added bonus for Nielsen Fitness Platinum clients, nutritional consultation is included in the cost of your training sessions, so be sure to take advantage of them and ask your trainer about how to tweak your eating habits to improve your heart health. If you aren’t a client, you can click here for a free workout and assessment for in-home personal training in Toronto, and virtual.

These two simple components to improve your heart health by way of exercise and healthy eating means that you can easily improve your habits and start leading a healthier life! You can do it all on your own, but if you need a hand, we’re here to help!

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