A new study from the American Heart Association has revealed that exercise may be the best way to keep your heart healthy, even among people where heart disease runs in the family. The study showed that increased physical activity and better cardiorespiratory fitness are associated with reduced risk for heart attacks and strokes.[i]What is worrying though, is that a separate study by the American Heart Association found that people would rather choose popping a pill over exercise to treat high blood pressure.[ii]Our health experts weigh in on these findings and share the different ways living a healthy and active lifestyle can help your heart.
How does exercise benefit the heart?
Nutritionist and Fitness Instructor Cassandra Barns explains, “Exercise is considered one of the best ways to reduce high blood pressure. It’s just as effective as blood pressure medications yet has fewer side effects – and much greater all-round health benefits such as helping to manage your weight, improving your strength and helping you feel good.”
“One of these recent studies suggests exercise is also the most effective way to protect yourself when heart disease runs in the family. All the evidence indicates we need to get more active! There are several ways exercise may help lower blood pressure, including by increasing production of a chemical called nitric oxide that helps blood vessels relax, by helping the body get rid of more sodium (salt), or by reducing levels of stress hormones such as adrenaline,” adds Cassandra.
Need some motivation?
Struggling to find the motivation to start your fitness journey? Find a friend to do it with you. “Being with others who are going through the same journey helps keep you motivated and accountable. If it’s not possible to exercise with friends directly, then try an online workout programme that has a Facebook or similar group you can join so you can share your progress and challenges with others,” suggests Cassandra.
Eleonora Sansoni, Pilates Instructor at holistic wellness boutique Maître of Thyme explains, “The benefit of physical activity on cardiovascular diseases are now well documented and on recent years many studies have also been investigating the effect of Pilates practise on health and fitness. Pilates exercises are designed to increase muscle strength, endurance and flexibility and to improve posture and balance. It has been found that the Pilates method may also be a beneficial to enhance functional capacity in patients with heart failure who are already receiving standard medical therapy.[iii]It has also been found that a Pilates exercise program can have a positive influence on patients with chronic stroke, potentially by enhancing the cardiopulmonary function, which may have positive implications for increasing their functional ability. These studies would suggest Pilates could help with the recovery from cardiovascular diseases and it also implies that regular Pilates exercise could help prevent the occurrence of heart problems.”
Pair exercise with a healthy diet
Dr. Marilyn Glenville, one of the UK’s leading nutritionists (www.marilynglenville.co.uk) advises, “Quite simply, the best thing you can do for your heart is to eat a healthy, balanced diet. It is especially important to increase your intake of oily fish, nuts, seeds and oils – because they are good sources of EFAs or essential fatty acids known to prevent heart disease. The Omega-3 fish oils are particularly important because they not only help prevent abnormal blood clotting, they can also help to lower bad cholesterol and increase the levels of good cholesterol, HDL. Phytoestrogens are another food group that has this effect on LDL and HDL, and has the added benefit of helping to lower triglycerides (your stored fat).”
Dr Glenville further adds, “Try to boost your intake of antioxidants, found in brightly coloured fruits and vegetables. These important nutrients reduce heart-disease risk by attacking the harmful free radicals that cause cell damage.”