The wonderful thing about health today is that we can all be much more proactive. The area of lifestyle medicine has a major focus on prevention, rather than waiting until we’re sick before we do anything. In the area of cardiovascular health we have a wealth of information regarding the risk factors, along with the lifestyle and dietary changes we can make to lower our risk.
Firstly, when was the last time you had a blood pressure check? High blood pressure, technically called hypertension, is extremely damaging to blood vessels around your body and increases your risk of heart problems and stroke.
If you do have high blood pressure your doctor may prescribe medication, but there are several things you can do yourself to lower it.
- If you are overweight, losing even a little weight will help.
- Reduce your salt intake and up your potassium. The balance between these two minerals is essential for blood pressure control. To cut down your salt intake use herbs and spices to flavour when cooking rather than automatically adding salt. Eat fewer highly processed packaged foods and fast food as these tend to be very salty. And boost your potassium intake by eating loads of plant foods, especially veggies and fruit.
- Manage your stress levels. Chronic stress has a significant effect on your blood pressure. Meditation, breathing exercises, yoga, achieving work-life balance and finding joy in your day can all help you to manage stress.
- Limit your alcohol intake – while one or two drinks a day can benefit cardiovascular health, more than this is detrimental to blood pressure.
Secondly, have a blood cholesterol check. You want to know not just your total cholesterol level, but the levels of LDL- (or so-called bad) cholesterol, and HDL- (or good) cholesterol. Essentially we want to lower LDL-cholesterol if it is too high & boost levels HDL-cholesterol as it is protective. Dietary changes can make a big difference here.
The key steps are to avoid all sources of trans fats. These do not occur to any great extent in nature but are created during food processing. You’ll find them in foods such as commercial pies, pastry, biscuits and cakes, many fast foods.
Despite the controversy over saturated fats lately, we do know that swapping unsaturated fats for saturated fats does help to lower LDL- and raise HDL-cholesterol. SO choose good fats such as extra virgin olive oil, avocado, nuts, seeds & oily fish, while cutting back on butter, fatty and processed meat, pastries and so on.
Fibre can also help you to improve your cholesterol profile. I’m loving this new supplement drink called beta-heart as it’s an easy way for you to get the specific fibre called beta-glucan that research has shown can help make a difference. It’s 100% natural and has no added sugar or nasty additives. It can even help you to control your blood sugar – crucial for those of you living with diabetes. All you need to do is include one sachet a day mixed in water, low fat milk or add it to your favourite smoothie recipe.
Beta Heart works to lower cholesterol in 3 ways:
- Binds to the bile acid produced by cholesterol within the liver and removes it from the body.
- Binds to bad cholesterol from food, which reduces the rate cholesterol is absorbed into the body.
- Binds to saturated fat from food, which reduces the rate saturated fat is absorbed into the body.
Finally I can’t talk about cardiovascular health without mentioning exercise. Being less sedentary and more active benefits our health in numerous ways including playing a role in weight control, in reducing blood pressure and in improving cholesterol profiles. Be sure to build some form of exercise into most days of your week.
These are just some of the major lifestyle factors that impact your cardiovascular health. I do hope that has given you a good overview of what you can do. Making a few small changes is how to get started and over time you’ll soon find what a big difference it can make.
This article was originally published on Dr. Joanna McMillan’s site.