4 Natural Ways to Keep your Heart Healthy
Published February 01, 2023
Hypertension, or high blood pressure, is the leading cause of heart disease in the United States. February is American Heart Month. To celebrate, try out at least one of these tips to keep your heart healthy!
The heart’s job is to pump blood around the whole body through the blood vessels. As it does this, the blood can either flow smoothly through the vessels, or be met with resistance. This resistance can be a result of excess fat, cholesterol, and other substances building up in the walls of arteries. Blood pressure can also rise due to excess fluid in the body, a result of consuming too much sodium (salt). The higher your blood pressure is, the harder your heart must work to do its job. Reducing sodium intake, eating a plant-based whole foods diet full of healthy fats, staying active and getting enough sleep can naturally keep that blood pressure under control and help to maintain a healthy heart.
Reduce Sodium (Salt) Intake
While the body does need sodium, most Americans consume far more than they need. Excessive sodium intake over time can lead to high blood pressure. The main culprits of a high-sodium diet are ultra-processed or restaurant foods. Ultra-processed foods often have added ingredients such as sugar, salt, fat, or preservatives. Examples of ultra-processed foods are packaged snacks, cold cuts, and fast food. You can lower your sodium intake by focusing on whole foods, and opting for “low sodium” labeled soups, sauces, canned goods, and cold cuts. “Low Sodium” foods have 140mg of sodium or less in each serving. In addition, using spices, herbs, lemon, or garlic can help to flavor your food without needing to add extra salt.
Favor Healthy Fats
Focus on consuming healthy fats and limiting unhealthy fats. This can improve your cholesterol and protect your heart. Healthy fats called mono- and polyunsaturated fat, are in foods like olive oil, avocados, nuts, seeds, and cold-water fish such as salmon. Unhealthy fats, called trans and saturated fats, are found in fried food, red meat, full-fat dairy, coconut oil, palm oil and baked goods. Focusing on consuming a plant-based whole foods diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts, and seeds can help to increase healthy fats and decrease unhealthy fats.
The heart is the body’s most important muscle, and it needs to be strengthened just like the others. The CDC recommends people engage in aerobic, or cardiovascular, activity to strengthen the heart3. Examples of aerobic activity include walking, jogging, swimming, cycling, and gardening. A minimum of 150 minutes of aerobic activity is recommended each week if choosing lower intensity activities like brisk walking. If a more intense activity like jogging or swimming is preferred, the recommendation is at least 75 minutes3. Physical activity benefits heart health by lowering blood pressure, regulating body weight, reducing inflammation, and reducing stress5. Everyone starts at a different place, so go at your own pace. The goal is to slowly build up your fitness over time with movement you enjoy!
Get Enough Sleep
Consistently getting enough sleep is important for heart health, as blood pressure regulates when we get enough sleep over time2. In addition, it is the primary time for the body to help repair itself2. Without consistently getting between 7-9 hours of quality sleep each night, blood pressure will remain higher for longer2, putting more strain on the heart. Try to stick to a regular sleep schedule, and get enough sunlight and physical activity during the day to get consistent, quality sleep.
Keeping your heart healthy is important for maintaining your overall health and well-being. If blood pressure or heart health is of concern to you, the providers at the Bastyr Center for Natural Health can help. If you feel that seeing one of them might be a good fit for you, please give us a call at (206) 834-4100 or visit the Bastyr Center for Natural Health Clinic at www.bastyrcenter.org.
About the Author
Megan Kramer is a Dietetic Intern at Bastyr University in Kenmore, WA. She is passionate about the link between food and disease and wants to share whole foods nutrition with others. When she is not exploring Seattle restaurants, you can find her hiking, cycling, or trying out new recipes at home.
CDC. Facts about hypertension. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Published October 14, 2022. Accessed October 30, 2022. https://www.cdc.gov/bloodpressure/facts.htm
CDC. How does sleep affect your heart health? Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Published January 6, 2021. Accessed October 31, 2022. https://www.cdc.gov/bloodpressure/sleep.htm
CDC. How much physical activity do adults need? Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Published October 20, 2022. Accessed October 28, 2022. https://www.cdc.gov/physicalactivity/basics/adults/index.htm
CDC. Sodium. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Published December 21, 2021. Accessed October 24, 2022. https://www.cdc.gov/heartdisease/sodium.htm
7 heart benefits of exercise. Hopkinsmedicine.org. Published August 8, 2021. Accessed November 21, 2022. https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/wellness-and-prevention/7-heart-benefits-of-exercise