Our nutrition and lifestyle advice can help you look after your heart health this winter – and all year round!
1. Eat blackcurrants for heart health
These dark purple berries get their colour from anthocyanins, which have a wealth of positive health effects, not least on your heart. ‘Anthocyanins are plant compounds that protect your body from disease due to their antioxidant, anti-inflammatory properties,’ says nutritionist Rob Hobson.
‘Anthocyanins also have benefits for brain, gut and metabolic health, and support the immune system,’ adds clinical pharmacist Mike Wakeman from CurraNZ. Blackcurrants have the richest sources of anthocyanins, with 592mg per 100g of berries.
Add blackcurrants into porridge and consider a supplement. Each 30-capsule CurraNZ pack (£23.99) contains the equivalent of 2,500 blackcurrants!
2. Try beetroot juice
This root veg isn’t only good for roasting, it helps ward off high blood pressure and lowers cholesterol, thanks to its high nitrate content. Women who regularly eat plenty of nitrate-rich vegetables are up to 40 per cent less likely to die from heart disease, according to researchers from Edith Cowan University in Australia.
‘Dietary nitrates are converted to nitric oxide, which helps blood vessels to dilate. Drinking 250ml of beetroot juice daily reduces blood pressure,’ says nutritionist Rob Hobson.
Try juicing some raw beetroot and having it neat! If it’s not palatable on its own, add some grated apple and carrot, with a squeeze of lemon to add sweetness.
3. Sit less and get moving
Whether it’s working, watching TV, or looking at your phone, being sedentary for long periods is bad news. For women in particular, sitting for 10 or more hours a day has been found to lead to premature ageing in the form of shortened cell telomeres – the caps on the ends of your chromosomes that protect them from damage.
When damaged, your cells age faster. This type of ageing is associated with cardiovascular disease, according to researchers from the University of California San Diego.
Get up every 20-30 minutes and move around if you work at a desk. Also, consider a stand-up desk, as these help prevent blood from pooling in your lower legs and keep you more active. Even fidgeting is helpful as every small movement counts!
4. Walk a dog to improve your heart health
Speaking of moving…dogs really are your best friend when it comes to heart health as having one forces you to be more active! Dog owners have been found to have an 11 per cent lower risk of heart disease over the long term, according to researchers at Uppsala University, Sweden.
They studied data from more than 3.4 million people aged between 40 and 80, and concluded that the social support and motivation for physical activity associated with having a dog played a key role in their findings.
Some experts recommend you walk your dog 2-3 times a day, rather than going for one long walk. So, one stroll in the morning and another early evening is good. And if you don’t have a dog you can borrow one! Simply visit borrowmydoggy.com.
5. Breathe deeply
Stress can cause you to breathe in a shallow way, only breathing into the upper part of your chest, which contributes to more stress. Deep, steady breathing helps calm your sympathetic nervous system, which helps lower blood pressure, and keeps you calm, while also keeping your heart healthy.
Gently blow out air, as if you’re blowing away a bubble. Don’t do it too hard or too quickly as this can cause your muscles to tense up. Exhale for as long as you can without straining.
Then, when you’ve finished, don’t immediately breathe in but wait for the air to slowly and automatically return through your nose. Do this 5-6 times and, with practice each day, you should find your breathing becomes deeper and easier.
6. Ditch the weekend lie-in to look after your heart health
Women who regularly lie in at the weekend in an attempt to catch up on lost sleep during the week are five per cent more likely to show signs of heart disease later in life, according to researchers at the University of California San Francisco.
Sleep plays a part in heart health as it helps reduce inflammation, keeps hormones balanced, and helps with cell detoxification.
As tempting as a weekend lie-in sounds, it’s better for your heart if you instead head to bed earlier each weekday, and at a similar time, rather than trying to make up for any lost sleep at the weekend.
7. Drink rosehip tea
The bright red hips of the dog rose are a rich source of vitamin C. They are also rich in pectin, a type of soluble fibre that can help protect against cardiovascular disease.
‘A six-week study found that those who consumed a drink containing rosehip powder had improved blood pressure and improved ‘bad’ LDL cholesterol compared with the control group,’ says Dr Tim Bond from the Tea Advisory Panel (TAP).
Hibiscus tea also benefits heart health. A review of 22 studies by TAP experts found that drinking 2-3 cups of hibiscus tea daily helped improve blood pressure. Try Newby Rosehip & Hibiscus Tisane (£6).