Look After Your Heart – after all it is the month of love and generosity J
January just whizzed by and now we find ourselves thrown into February. A cold and icy month, the last month of winter in the UK and the only month that can pass without a single full moon. However, to warm the “cockles of our hearts” February is also a time for celebration. Some of you may be celebrating the life of St Valentine by sending valentine cards, depicting hearts and roses to show your love and affection to another. So who was Valentine? He was a Roman priest who fell in love whilst in jail during the reign of Emperor Claudius II in the third Century AD. On his day of execution, the 14 February, he sent her a love letter signed “from your Valentine” – so the story goes.
The heart is one of the most important organs and has long been recognized across cultures as being a symbol of love, charity, joy and compassion. It is the first organ to form during our development in the womb and whilst it has to go through several complicated stages of development, it begins to nourish our growing embryo with only a few cells that resemble a long tube.
So why should women, especially those going through peri-menopause or who have gone through menopause need to look after their heart? Research shows that the female hormone oestrogen protects our heart by increasing HDL (good cholesterol), lowers LDL (bad cholesterol), relaxes and dilates blood vessels so flood flow increases, soaks up free radicals that occur naturally in the blood that can damage arteries and other tissues. So as our hormones fluctuate and decrease as we go through peri-menopause and menopause, we lose that protection. By the age of 65 our risk of heart disease increases and is equal to that of men, and unfortunately is the number one killer of women, even more than breast cancer.
BUT, it’s not all doom and gloom, we can do a considerable amount to help our heart stay strong and healthy and it’s relatively easy. All we need to do is eat great nutritious natural food and take regular exercise. Have a look at the heart healthy exercise and meal ideas below. I hope you find them interesting and helpful. As a Womens Health & Wellness Coach and registered with the British Menopause Society I specialize in peri-menopause and menopause I have lots more fantastic information to share on my new website which will be up and running soon.
A healthy balanced diet can benefit your heart, lower your cholesterol level and can help manage diabetes, arthritis, help you lose any excess weight. It is simple, you just need to try to eat:
Plenty of fruit and vegetables: apples, berries, tomatoes, pomegranate, bananas, cruciferous green vegetables such as cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, brussel sprouts. Spinach, kale, lambs lettuce, rocket and watercress are great additions too as they are full of carotenoids which are great antioxidants. Parsnips are another good choice given their high level of potassium which helps reduces blood pressure and high levels of folate which helps reduce homocysteine levels in the blood which are associated with a higher risk of heart disease
Starchy foods: brown/wild rice, potatoes, sweet potatoes, squash, whole-grain barley, whole wheat or spinach pasta, quinoa and millet. Other whole grains include bulgur, oatmeal, whole rye and buckwheat. If you’re buying bread, read the ingredients list to see if it includes a whole grain as the first ingredient and remember shop bought bread has added sugar to it so eat in moderation
Lean meat: chicken and turkey, oily fish such as mackerel and salmon, eggs, beans and other non-dairy sources of protein such as quinoa, buckwheat, hempseed, chai seeds, soy, Quorn, chickpeas, legumes such as peas, beans and lentils
Use heart healthy oilsto drizzle over food such as flaxseed oil, walnut oil, extra virgin olive oil, to sear or brown food use almond, avocado or light/refined oil. Light virgin olive oil is best for stir-frying, baking or oven cooking
Eat nuts:a handful walnuts, almonds, brazil nuts are great but don’t over do it, great for bowel health too. Obviously, if you have a nut allergy, don’t eat them!!
Alcohol: cut back on the amount of alcohol you drink, alcohol can exacerbate hot flushes too and always stick within the recommended guidelines set by the Government
Cut back on junk foods: takeaways, processed/packaged meals and other foods or drinks high in sugar, salt, saturated or trans fats
Try semi-skimmed or skimmed milk and lower fat dairy products or go for dairy alternative such as nut milks, oat milk etc.. If you like dairy products, try kefir a fabulously gut healthy alternative to milk and drink kombucha a fermented tea that is tasty and for children a great alternative to sodas.
Drink plenty of water too!
Heart Healthy Meals
Porridge made with skimmed milk, water or nut milk and whole porridge oats or banana with glass of pure, unsweetened orange juice diluted with water (50/50 mix) or poached egg on two slices of wholegrain toast
Homemade lentil soup, wholemeal crackers with hummus or
Jacket potato with baked beans (organic reduced salt/sugar) and rocket salad
Jacket potato or sweet potato with baked salmon, steamed spinach and peas or
homemade chunky vegetable goulash, brown rice, broccoli
2 satsumas or small handful of unsalted nuts or 7-8 strawberries or 1 pear or 1 small banana or 1 medium apple or 3 oatcakes with low fat cream cheese or carrot sticks with 2 tablespoons hummus or 2 plums
These meal ideas are not intended as an eating plan to be followed on a long-term basis. More ideas are on my website and especially designed for peri-menopausal and menopausal women. If you are unsure or have a health concern, talk to your GP or practice nurse for further advice.
Being active is key to having a healthy heart so it is important to try and stay active throughout the day and reduce the amount of time you sit for long periods.
Researchers estimate that each hour of regular exercise you get, you’ll gain 2 hours of additional life expectancy, even if you start in middle age! Walking is a great option. Just look at a few of the benefits from a brisk 30 minute walk: prevents heart disease, lowers your risk of high blood pressure, diabetes and stroke, helps smoking cessation, aids cardiac rehabilitation, builds stronger immunity, reduces blood pressure if you have high blood pressure, helps reduce stress, tension, depression and anxiety, helps weight management, improves overall health and wellbeing and prolongs your optimal health. Nearly everyone can do it and all you need is a good pair of shoes. You could go swimming, take exercise classes or play a sport, but physical activity also includes everyday things like gardening and climbing stairs. Remember, any increase in physical activity will be good for your health.
You’ll get added benefits by including activities that help strengthen muscles twice a week, such as exercising with weights, working with resistance bands, heavy gardening or carrying shopping. You should aim to build up to a total of 150 minutes (2.5 hours) of moderate intensity activity each week. Moderate intensity activity will make you feel warmer, breath harder and make your heart beat faster than usual, but you should still be able to carry on a conversation.
Many health problems can be helped by regular physical activity, but if you do have a health problem, or have a condition that you are taking prescribed medication for, you should check the amount and type of activity that is suitable for you with your GP. Thank you to the British Heart Foundation and the British Menopause Society for their contribution to this article.