HomeHealthTwo little-known factors for a healthy heart

Two little-known factors for a healthy heart

As we age, maintaining a healthy heart becomes increasingly important. With cardiovascular diseases being a leading cause of death globally, it’s crucial to understand the various factors that can promote a healthy heart. 

A recent summary published in the European Heart Journal has highlighted 10 key factors for slowing cardiovascular ageing and promoting a healthy heart. While many of these factors will be familiar to you, two lesser-known elements have emerged as things to watch: decreasing stress in your life and protecting your social and emotional wellbeing.

Heart-healthy diet

Let’s dive into the well-known factors first. A heart-healthy diet is paramount. This includes consuming a primarily plant-based, fibre-rich diet with the inclusion of fish and some dairy products. This diet provides essential fatty acids, vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals that support your body’s metabolic and molecular functions. Also, growing evidence supports restricting your eating time to an eight- to 10-hour window to help manage your weight and boost metabolic health.

Get moving

Physical activity is another cornerstone of heart health. A mix of aerobic exercises, high-intensity interval training, strength, flexibility, and balance training for 30 to 60 minutes a day can reduce visceral fat. Exercise also helps maintain glucose metabolism, insulin sensitivity, and blood pressure. Additionally, taking regular three- to five-minute breaks from prolonged sitting can further enhance these benefits.

Lifestyle changes

We’re all aware that smoking is detrimental to heart health, leading to inflammation and chronic activation of the sympathetic nervous system. Similarly, alcohol consumption, even in small amounts, is not beneficial for your heart. And let’s not forget the importance of sleep. Prioritising good sleep quality is essential. Poor sleep contributes to chronic inflammation, insulin resistance, increased sympathetic activity, and hormone disruption.

Little-known factors that can supercharge your heart health

Professor Luigi Fontana, author of the new paper and scientific director of the University of Sydney’s Charles Perkins Centre, emphasises the importance of managing stress and fostering social and emotional health.

Soon after Prof. Fontana began practising medicine and researching healthy ageing, he found that conveying the message to patients that they could improve their health and longevity by simply reducing their food intake or increasing physical activity wasn’t as straightforward as it seemed. Only a portion of individuals would actually adhere to the prescribed healthy changes.

The majority of research indicates that approximately 50 per cent of individuals sustain positive lifestyle alterations. 

Prof. Fontana is now sure that the missing piece of the puzzle is the effects of stress and our social and emotional health.

“If people are unhappy, they are distressed, they have anxiety, they are unhappy with their lives, they are going to struggle to change their lifestyle,” says Prof. Fontana. “Many people cope with their emotional distress and anxiety with food, drugs or alcohol.”

Chronic stress and negative emotions can significantly impact cardiovascular health. Chronic anger, for instance, can trigger dangerous heart rhythm disturbances. Similarly, loneliness and depression elevate the risk of cardiovascular disease and cognitive decline. 

Prof. Fontana believes that the teaching of nutrition and healthy cooking, physical activity, how the body works and strategies to manage emotional health should be taught from primary school.

“Mindfulness-based stress reduction and cognitive therapy, particularly when combined with slow breathing exercises and artistic/philosophical spiritual practices, can effectively alleviate psychological and emotional stress, anxiety, and depression and promote human flourishing,” he says.

“Nurturing deep connections with family and friends through insight, empathetic communication, and forgiveness, marked by altruism and compassion, are paramount in enhancing the plasticity of wellbeing.”

Professor Peter Kistler, from the Baker Heart and Diabetes Institute, acknowledges that while the effects of stress and relationships on heart health are based on observational studies, there are scientifically plausible reasons for their impact. He is currently conducting a randomised controlled trial exploring the benefits of regular yoga on heart health, which could provide further insights into the connection between stress management and cardiovascular wellbeing.

While you cannot eliminate all risks, understanding the risk factors and implementing lifestyle changes, can significantly reduce the risk of developing heart disease. 

What do you think about the effects of stress and emotional wellbeing on the heart? Do you agree? Let us know in the comments section below.

Also read: Link between walnuts and your heart health revealed

Disclaimer:This article contains general information about health issues and is not advice. For health advice, consult your medical practitioner.

Ellie Baxter
Ellie Baxter
Writer and editor with interests in travel, health, wellbeing and food. Has knowledge of marketing psychology, social media management and is a keen observer and commentator on issues facing older Australians.
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