10 Ways to Protect Your Heart Health

This week is National Heart Week. To help keep your heart pumping along nicely, we've put together 10 wonderful things you can do to protect it, using diet, exercise and meditation. To read more on heart health or wellness in general, download the NIIM Roadmap to Wellness, it's free and full of great health advice including tips for every day of the year.

1. Avoid trans fats. Trans fats increase the risk of developing heart disease and stroke. They can be found in biscuits, cakes, some margarines and fried foods.

2. Avoid added sugars and salts. Added sugars and salt in takeaway or packaged foods trains you to crave it more and may also increase the risk of heart attack and stroke.

3. Get your homocysteine levels checked. Elevated levels of homocysteine can cause an increased risk of arterioslerosis (hardening of the arteries) which may predispose one to heart attacks, dementia, stroke and peripheral vascular disease. Book in to see your Integrative GP now to get your homocysteine levels checked.

4. Meditate for 10 to 30 minutes per day. Meditation is associated with reduced heart disease and mental illness. A study conducted in 1987 compared five years of medical insurance utilisation statistics for regular meditators and non-meditators. This study showed that meditators had 87.3% less heart disease than non-meditators. Find out how to meditate by downloading the NIIM Roadmap to Wellness, it's free.

5. Eat plenty of dietary fibre from foods such as whole grains, legumes, fruit and vegetables. Dietary fibre has been shown to reduce the risk of chronic disease including heart disease, certain cancers and diabetes.

6. Maintain a healthy weight. Obesity has a direct influence on chronic illnesses such as heart disease and diabetes. Being overweight or obese can also promote insulin resistance and inflammation, which may also increase the risk of cancer for people of above-average body weight.

7. Get active. Studies have shown physical activity to have beneficial effects in preventing and treating a wide range of conditions, including heart disease, cancer, depression and diabetes. Stretching, aerobic exercise and strength or resistance training will burn calories, increase metabolism and strengthen the cardiovascular system, including the heart and lungs.

8. Swap white wine or other alcoholic drinks for red wine. Red wine contains antioxidants and is protective for the heart. Just half a standard drink of red wine provides the antioxidant benefits.

9. Drink organic, high quality cocoa or eat dark chocolate with a minimum cocoa content of 70%. Cocoa has many health benefits including reductions in blood pressure and may also help to prevent against heart attack and stroke.

10. Avoid canola oil and other vegetable oils. Replace with cold-pressed extra virgin olive oil as a salad dressing, which has been shown to be protective for the heart and many other disease. Grapeseed oil or macadamia nut oil are great alternatives for more extensive cooking or frying.

By Sonia Wilkinson