Have a Healthy Heart

June 24, 2011 • Healthy Living

The coming of the New Year usually brings attention to our health. Renewing healthy eating habits, starting a new exercise plan or quitting smoking are some of the ways to kick off a healthy new year. Implementing one or all of these lifestyle changes is supportive to the health of our cardiovascular system (the heart, blood, and blood vessels). Cardiovascular disease accounts for 30% of all deaths in Canada, and costs our medical system $22.2 billion every year. Though the incidence of heart disease and stroke has actually decreased in Canada over the last 40 years, these statistics still give us motivation to mind our heart health.

The cardiovascular system's primary function is to deliver oxygen and nutrients to cells throughout the body. And to remove carbon dioxide and cellular waste products, and deliver them to the liver, kidneys and lungs for disposal. Our cardiovascular system is an amazing system. Each day, our heart beats approximately 100,000 times, pumping up to 5,000 gallons of blood, through 60,000 miles of blood vessels!

"Let your food be your medicine and your medicine be your food." Hippocrates

One of the most effective ways we can care for our cardiovascular system is by eating a healthy diet. Eating a diet consisting of mainly fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes, and omega-3 fatty acids encourages healthy cholesterol levels, decreases blood pressure, and nourishes blood vessel walls and the blood. Foods containing white flour, sugar, preservatives, and saturated fats negatively impact heart health by contributing to high cholesterol levels, atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries), and increased blood pressure.

Exercise is another crucial way to improve heart health. It lowers cholesterol levels, improves blood flow and blood supply to tissues, decreases blood pressure and increases the heart's pumping capacity. Doing just 30 minutes of cardiovascular exercise (e.g. a brisk walk, running, dancing, skiing) 3 times a week can contribute to a healthy heart.

There are many supplements that are beneficial to the cardiovascular system. One of my favourites is fish oil, which is a source of omega-3 fatty acids. This essential fatty acid is found in bony fish (e.g. salmon, trout, mackerel, herring, sardines, and halibut), flax seed oil, and hemp seed oil. Although it is beneficial to consume fish, taking a regular dose of fish oil in supplement form is a sure way of keeping constant, healthy levels in your system. Omega-3's have many positive effects on our heart health: they decrease LDL ("bad" cholesterol) and triglycerides in the blood, lower blood pressure, and prevent blood clots. For vegetarians, flax seed oil is a great substitution for fish oil.

Our heart and its system perform a tremendous task each day, therefore it is crucial that we care for it.