February is healthy heart awareness month.

The aim of the healthy heart awareness campaign is to motivate everyone to adopt healthy lifestyles and help prevent heart disease. Focusing on your heart health has never been more important in today’s climate, specifically as people with poor cardiovascular health are also at increased risk of severe illness from COVID-19.

The heart beats about 2.5 billion times over the average lifetime, pushing millions of gallons of blood to every part of the body. This steady flow carries with it oxygen, fuel, hormones, other compounds, and a host of essential cells, it also whisks away the waste products of metabolism. When the heart stops, essential functions fail, some almost instantly, when the heart stops, essential functions fail, some almost instantly.

Given the heart’s never-ending workload, it is a wonder that it performs so well, for so long, for so many people. However, it can also fail, brought down by a poor diet, lack of exercise, smoking, infection, unlucky genes and more.

A key problem is atherosclerosis, this is the accumulation of pockets of cholesterol-rich gunk inside the arteries. These pockets called plaque can limit blood flow through arteries that nourish the heart. The coronary arteries, and other arteries throughout the body. When a plaque breaks apart it can cause a heart attack or stroke.

Although many people develop some form of cardiovascular disease as they get older, it is not inevitable. A healthy lifestyle, especially when started at a young age, goes a long way to preventing cardiovascular disease.

Lifestyle changes and medications can help nip heart harming trends, like high blood pressure or high cholesterol in the bud before they cause damage, and a variety of medications, operations and devices can help support the heart if damage occurs.

Physical Activity
Key benefits of exercise with regard to heart disease are:

• Improves the muscles ability to pull oxygen out of the blood, reducing the need for the heart to pump more blood to the muscles.
• Reduces stress hormones that can put an extra burden on the heart.
• Works like a beta blocker to slow the heart rate and lower blood pressure.
• Increases high-density lipoprotein (HDL) or good cholesterol and helps control triglycerides.

General guidelines call for a combination of aerobic exercise and resistance training. Try to get in a minimum of 30 minutes of aerobic exercise such as walking, cycling, or swimming at least five days a week. Do moderate weightlifting to tone muscles and build muscle endurance twice a week, or frequently enough to cover the major muscle groups.

Eating for a healthy heart
• The best diet for preventing heart disease is one that is full of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, nuts, fish, poultry, and vegetable oils, including alcohol in moderation, if at all; and goes easy on red and processed meats, processed foods and beverages with added sugar sodium and foods with trans fats.
• People with diets consisting with this dietary pattern had a 31% lower risk of heart disease, a 33% lower risk of diabetes and a 20% lower risk of stroke.
• Interesting studies have shown that low fat diets are not beneficial to heart health, and that incorporating healthy fats such as those included in a Mediterranean diet, can improve heart health and weight loss.
• The Mediterranean diet is a primarily plant-based eating plan that includes daily intake of whole grains, olive oil, fruits, vegetables, beans and other legumes, nuts, herbs, and spices. Other foods like animal proteins are eating in smaller quantities, with the preferred animal protein being fish and seafood.

Sleep
Sleep is not a luxury. It is critical to good health. Sleep helps your body repair itself. Getting enough good sleep also helps you function normally during the day.
Adults who sleep less than 7 hours each night are more likely to say they have had health problems, including heart attack, asthma, and depression. Some of these health problems raise the risk for heart disease, heart attack, and stroke.

Insomnia refers to trouble falling sleep, staying asleep, or both. As many as 1 in 2 adults experiences short-term insomnia at some point, and 1 in 10 may have long-lasting insomnia. Insomnia is linked to high blood pressure and heart disease. Over time, poor sleep can also lead to unhealthy habits that can hurt your heart, including higher stress levels, less motivation to be physically active, and unhealthy food choices.

People who fall asleep between 10.00pm and 11.00pm may be less likely to develop heart disease than those who start their slumber earlier or later, according to a new study, published in the European Heart Journal Digital Health.

The theory behind this is that the body has a 24-hour internal clock, called circadian rhythm, which helps regulate physical and mental functioning, is most effective when sleeping at a specific point such as between 10.00pm and 11.00pm, the least effective time was sleeping after midnight.

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