5 Steps to Improve and Maintain Heart Health

Heart health is critical to longevity and wellness. Check out these 5 steps to keep your heart healthy and happy.

Woman doctor holds out toy heart model

healthy heart pumps and circulates life-giving blood to the rest of the body, ensuring that every part of us functions optimally. In an average lifetime, the heart beats approximately 2.5 billion times. As your heart holds the key to good health and longevity, it’s important to keep it in good shape – regardless of your age. Here are five steps to improve and maintain your heart health well into your golden years.

1. Heart-healthy Diet

A healthy meal comprising protein and vegetables. 
Eat a balanced diet of heart-healthy foods.

A healthy heart begins with a healthy meal. This means consuming foods that contain all the important nutrients every day. For starters, ensure optimal portions of essential food groups on your plate. Fill half of your plate with vegetables and fruits and a quarter with healthy proteins and fats. The remaining quarter should consist of whole grains. 

Incorporate a variety of vegetables and fruits containing vitamins, minerals, and fibre into your daily meals. Compounds called phytonutrients, which are responsible for the vibrant pigments in vegetables and fruits, provide anti-inflammatory benefits to your heart. 

For protein, go for heart-healthy options such as fish, poultry, beans, and nuts. Also include healthy fats like fish (mackerel, salmon, and sardines), nuts (cashews and pistachios), and healthy oils such as extra virgin olive oil.

2. Regular Exercise for Better Heart Health

Middle-aged couple jog outdoors
Regular exercise has endless heart health benefits.

The heart is a muscle, and just like our other muscles, it will atrophy and become weak unless we train it. That’s why regular exercise is so important when it comes to maintaining heart health. A study done in early 2021 indicated that there are no limits to the cardiovascular benefits of exercise. 

Different types of exercise benefit the heart in multiple ways. For example, aerobic or cardio workouts like brisk walking, jogging, running, cycling, and swimming can help strengthen the heart. You should aim for at least 30 minutes of cardio per day for at least five days a week.

Meanwhile, resistance exercises like lifting weights or using resistance bands develop and stimulate muscle growth, making them more efficient at fat burning. This type of exercise helps with heart health because too much body fat, especially around the belly, is a risk factor for heart disease. Try to include at least two training sessions per week on non-consecutive days. 

Tai chi, a form of meditative movement practice, is also great for heart health. Research has shown that it lowers blood pressure and other heart diseases. This gentle exercise encourages the proper flow of qi (vital life energy), improves flexibility, and calms the body and mind.

3. Quit Smoking

Person holds out one hand holding toy heart and other hand holding cigarettes
Tobacco smoke accounts for 20% of heart disease-related deaths.

Chemicals in cigarette smoke constrict blood vessels leading to an increase in blood pressure and damaging the heart. In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), smoking is harmful as it negatively impacts all five of the organ systems. This “fire” toxin dries up fluids in the lungs, burns kidney essence (jing), affects the liver and spleen, and interferes with the heart.

The World Health Organization found that a person’s risk of heart disease reduces by 50% after just one year of not smoking. In addition to things like nicotine patches and educational and behavioural modalities to help with quitting smoking, acupuncture has also been shown to improve smoking cessation rates.

4. Herbs for Heart Health

Fresh longan fruit next to a bowl of dried longan fruit
In Traditional Chinese Medicine, dried longan meat helps with improving heart health.

In TCM, the heart is the seat of “spirit” or shen and the source of vitality. Therefore, it is not a surprise that it is considered the reigning king of the five organs.

A variety of herbs are available to help the heart perform optimally. For example, Chinese ginseng (panax notoginseng) or san qi, is especially good for the regeneration of red blood cells as well as enhancing circulation. Red sage or dan shen, another TCM herb, improves blood circulation, reduces blood viscosity, and supports coronary arteries.  

Other herbs like Chinese angelica (dang gui) and prepared fleece flower root (zhi he shou wu) help improve blood circulation and boost heart health. Dried longan meat is also a great addition to your diet. herbs that increase blood flow as they can increase bleeding risks.

5. Regular Medical Check-ups

Finally, regular monitoring of your cardiovascular heart is essential. It may be a good idea to use a blood pressure monitor regularly for some self-monitoring at home. Remember to schedule annual check-ups with your physician and take note of any health-related changes. 

Western medicine aside, TCM has a holistic approach when it comes to heart health. A TCM physician typically prescribes a comprehensive regimen to keep your heart healthy based on your individual body constitution, syndromes, and other factors.

A healthy heart leads to a better quality of life. If you notice anything amiss with your heart, such as rapid or irregular heartbeats, consult a doctor or TCM practitioner to get a thorough diagnosis. Meanwhile, take these five actionable steps today to begin your journey toward better heart health and wellness. 

This is an adaptation of an article, “照顾您心脏五大秘技!(Five Secrets to Take Care of Your Heart!)”, which first appeared on Health 123 website

References

  1. The University of Utah Health. 2021. Healthy Eating: A Dietitian’s Guide to a Balanced Plate. [Accessed 14 November 2021]. 
  2. Heart and Stroke (Canada). 2021. Dietary fats, oils and cholesterol.   [Accessed 8 November 2021]. 
  3. Science Daily. 2021. No limit to cardiovascular benefits of exercise, study finds.[Accessed 8 November 2021].
  4. Advanced Cardiovascular Institute. Health Benefits of Tai Chi. [Accessed 14 November 2021]. 
  5. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. 2021. How Smoking Affects Heart Health. [Accessed 8 November 2021]. 
  6. World Health Organization (WHO). 2020. Tobacco responsible for 20% of deaths from coronary heart disease.[Accessed 8 November 2021]. 
  7. Tobacco Induced Diseases. 2019. Acupuncture for smoking cessation: A systematic review and meta-analysis of 24 randomised controlled trials.  [Accessed 14 November 2021]. 
  8. Self Decode. 2021. Longan Fruit Health Benefits + Side Effects & Dosage. [Accessed 8 November 2021]. 

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