The heart is a muscle, sure, but unlike your other muscles it’s difficult to know if it’s in great shape or not. Which is a real concern given that heart attacks and strokes cause 17 million deaths worldwide every year – including among regular gym-goers.
And the reason? Well, while exercise is one of the best ways to ward off heart disease, it’s not the only thing you need to take into consideration. You also need to look at what kind of exercise you’re doing, what you’re eating
and your lifestyle in general.
Hitting the gym regularly is a great first step but if you spend the rest of your day sitting down you could be undoing most of that good work. Being seated is so detrimental to your overall health that even if you do the standard 30 minutes of walking every day, sitting for the rest of your waking time – let’s say that’s approximately 15 hours at your desk, in front of the TV or eating dinner – puts you at increased risk of heart disease.
Researchers from the University of South Carolina even put a figure on it: men who spent more than 23 hours a week seated had a 64% higher risk of dying from heart disease compared to those who sat for 11 hours or less. Sitting for long periods during the day gives you higher levels of cholesterol, higher blood sugar and triglycerides, increasing your risk not only of heart disease but also diabetes.
But while you are at the gym, it’s also important to assess what kind of exercise you’re doing. Sure, hitting the weights room every time will give you the kind of look you’re after, but there might be better ways to put your heart muscle through its paces. To do that, you need to raise your heart rate. Running, cycling or swimming fast will do it, as will walking at a brisk pace.
If you want to keep your gym time purely focused on growing bigger muscles, make sure you take the time to walk to work or do some hiking at the weekend. According to new research published in medical journal Stroke long walks are particularly beneficial for your heart.
Researchers from University College London, UK, analyzed data from around 3,000 men and found that those who walked between one and two hours a day – regardless of how fast – were 33% less likely to suffer with a stroke within the next 10 years than those who walked less than three hours per week.
Even with a fantastic exercise regime your diet can still seriously damage your heart. And that’s because cholesterol is a major factor in coronary disease because too much of it builds up in the walls of your arteries, slowing down blood flow – and if blood doesn’t reach your heart quickly and easily, it has to work even harder to pump out oxygenated blood.
Plus, if your arteries get too blocked up you may even suffer a stroke or a heart attack.
But by now you probably know all about cholesterol. Or maybe you just think you do. A recent study by cholesterol charity Heart UK found that approximately half of adults surveyed (in the UK) had no idea what their cholesterol level was, and more than one in 10 incorrectly believed that more sleep would lower cholesterol.
So, in case you don’t know, these are the things that will improve your cholesterol levels: eat more oats, beans, peas, lentils, fruit and veg, all of which are full of soluble fiber helping to reduce cholesterol absorption into your bloodstream; grab a handful of nuts that contain healthy fats, as does olive oil and cold-water fish; and cut out or reduce your intake of processed foods such as luncheon meats, sausages, and cakes and biscuits, all of which contain high levels of saturated fat.
Walk to life
Perhaps the most misunderstood aspect of keeping your heart healthy is your lifestyle. We’re not just talking about quitting smoking (that’s a given) but there are other features of the way you live your life you need to get a handle on.
For example, if you’re the kind of guy who likes to work through the night and sleep during the day, you could be in danger of suffering heart disease. Research published in the journal Science found that by disrupting the light-dark cycle in rodents, their natural ability to keep inflammation in check was disrupted.
Inflammation is thought to increase your risk of heart disease by injuring the artery walls and allowing plaque deposits to build up (atherosclerosis), and it also puts you at risk of inflammation-linked illnesses such as bowel disease and arthritis, for example. Other things aside from sleep that can negatively affect inflammation levels are stress and an unbalanced and unhealthy diet.
If you’ve got all those aspects of your heart health covered, congratulations. But before you go, answer this: how’s your breath smelling? If you’re not sure it probably means you haven’t brushed your teeth recently. Do it right now – it might save your life.
Research published in the Journal of the American Heart Association found that adults who improved their dental hygiene over a period of three years showed a decrease in atherosclerosis, the thickening of artery walls that can lead to heart problems. The adults whose brushing and flossing deteriorated went on to experience worsening atherosclerosis.
And let’s face it: no one wants to talk to someone with dog-breath, so get brushing.
Looking after your heart gives you:
A better sex life
Looking after your heart will ensure the majority of your body is running smoothly, especially your manhood. Your penis is reliant on an excellent cardiovascular system in order to get hard, so the stronger your heart is… Well, you get the idea.
An excuse to raise a glass
Drinking the occasional glass of red wine may improve heart health. Research has shown that resveratrol, a substance found in red wine and red grape juice, among other things, helps to reduce cholesterol and thereby helps protect your heart.
A reason to downsize
If you’re looking for a good reason to leave your high-stress job and do something you love instead, your heart could be just the ticket. While short-term stress won’t do you any harm, long-term stress raises your blood pressure putting your heart under excess pressure.
Red yeast rice
Green tea extract
B-complex vitamins (B6, B12, folic acid)
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