There are many facets to the pursuit of healthfulness, a variety of twists, turns and hills to navigate in order to stay healthy…isn’t there? Well, the pursuit of healthfulness could be a more linear path than we all dare to think, it’s just a matter of acknowledging the potential pitfalls along the way.
The heart is a complex structure comprising 4 compartments that each fill with blood in order to build pressure. Adequate pressure in each chamber prompts a pump forceful enough to propel blood around the body to feed your organs and muscles. The problem is this, in order to fill each chamber of the heart the venous return from the rest of the body has to be efficient, and this depends on several factors (discussion of all factors is beyond the scope of this article), in particular the health and integrity of your veins and arteries (WebMD, 2013).
A diet high in sugar (particularly refined sugar) will increase irritation to veins and arteries, whilst a large amount of saturated and trans fat contributes to fatty deposits within the arterial walls resulting in arterial stiffening. This stiffening is caused by ‘plaque like’ deposits in the arterial walls known as atherosclerosis, the result of this is impaired propulsion of blood. If the arteries are less efficient at pumping blood (arteries have muscle within their walls, veins don’t) to the veins then venous return will be impaired. If venous return is impaired, less blood reaches the heart inhibiting the filling process, consequently the heart beat is weaker.
The term ‘Cardio-protective’ refers to a ‘heart healthy’ diet that is anti-inflammatory, supports cell integrity, favourably improves cholesterol ratios, and minimises free radical damage through the delivery of antioxidants. One of the most popular cardio-protective diets is the Mediterranean diet, reinforced by the relatively low prevalence of heart disease amongst the Mediterranean cohort. The Mediterranean diet is high in mono and polyunsaturated fat, as well as being rich in vitamins and minerals and both soluble and insoluble fibre (NHS Choices, 2013).
The Mediterranean diet is largely based on vegetables, fruit, beans, peas and pulses, whole grains and olive oil and fish. Many might argue that the addition of more grains isn’t ideal, but it is the soluble fibre that comes with them that help to favourably shift healthy cholesterol levels. The cardio-protective Mediterranean diet is a great place to start for heart health and longevity (Food Standards Agency, 2008).
Lack of exercise
The World Health Organisation (WHO) currently recommends performing a minimum of 30mins of physical activity a day, 5 days a week in order to promote heart and vascular health. So to maintain heart health and productivity be sure to include exercise into your lifestyle, this will keep the cardiac tissue healthy as well as improving the efficiency of your blood vessels (WHO, 2010).
So to give yourself the best chances in reaching, or maintaining heart healthfulness be sure to eat well, exercise regularly and try not to lose sight of why you started in the first place…to live a long, happy and prosperous life!
Food Standards Agency, (2008). Manual of Nutrition. 11th Ed. London: TSO
NHS Choices, (2013). What is a Mediterranean diet? Retrieved 25th November, 2013, from http://www.nhs.uk/Livewell/Goodfood/Pages/what-is-a-Mediterranean-diet.aspx
WebMD, (2013). Heart Health Centre. Retrieved 25th November, 2013, from http://www.webmd.com/heart/picture-of-the-heart
World Health Organisation, (2010). Global recommendations on physical activity for health. Retrieved 25th November, 2013, from http://www.who.int/dietphysicalactivity/publications/9789241599979/en/index.html