WHEN it comes to heart health, exercise, lots of fruit and veg, not too much salt and good sleep quality are all on the list.
But wouldn’t it be great if listening to music, hugging, being kind and having a good old belly laugh kept your ticker in check too?
The good news is, they do.
Keeping your heart healthy doesn’t have to be boring, in fact there are plenty of ways to maintain heart health and have a tonne of fun along the way…
GET YOUR GIGGLE ON
Research from the University of Maryland found having a good laugh elicits the same biological responses as exercise.
The scientists found the diameter of blood vessels enlarges which increases blood flow when we laugh – the same thing happens when we exercise so maybe it’s time to forgo the gym for a comedy at the cinema.
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Professor Michael Miller from the study says: “Laughter is an integral component of good heart health because it expands blood vessels, lowers blood pressure and reduces overall stress.
“In fact, the heart healthiest laugh is the one that brings tears to your eyes.”
UPDATE YOUR SPOTIFY
A nurse-led study in a hospital in the US found heart patients who were played 30 minutes of music each day experienced lower blood pressure, less stress and lower heart rates than those not exposed to music.
A similar study from Hong Kong found playing 25 minutes of music a day to a group of elderly volunteers reduced their blood pressure.
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From painful sex to stubborn belly fat, Dr Jeff answers your health questions
ADOPT A DOG
Research by the American Heart association found dog owners experience a multitude of health benefits from living longer to lower cholesterol.
They also have healthier hearts, lower heart disease risk and enjoy lower stress levels.
If you can’t adopt, why not volunteer as a dog walker for your local animal shelter?
Dr Glenn Levine, professor of medicine at Baylor College of Medicine and lead author of the study says: “Many pet owners have found emotional support from their pets, and science backs up the physical and mental health benefits to pet companionship.
“Chronic or constant stress is a key risk factor of heart disease and stroke, and studies show having a pet can improve mood, reduce stress and encourage healthy lifestyle habits like physical activity.”
HUG IT OUT
Whether it’s a romantic one, one with the kids, or even one with a friend, hugging is not only good for relationships but it helps heart health too.
While it’s long been known hugging and human contact reduces cortisol – the stress hormone – researchers at the University of North Carolina found study participants who hugged their partners had a heart rate of ten beats per minute slower than those who didn’t hug.
AN ORGASM A DAY KEEPS THE DOCTOR AWAY
Whether it’s some solo time or getting between the sheets with a partner, having sex improves heart health.
The American Journal of Cardiology published a study which found those who had sex twice a week are 50 per cent less likely to develop heart disease.
A further report from Massachusetts found men who orgasmed once a month were 45 percent more likely to die of cardiovascular disease than those who had two or more orgasms a week.
While being decent has often been known as having a big heart, it turns out kindness is good for heart health.
Acting selflessly and helping other people releases oxytocin, a hormone that has cardio protective properties by reducing blood pressure, so next time you can let someone go at a junction, know you’re doing your heart, as well as someone else’s journey, some good.
GET YOUR NEEDLES OUT
Whether it’s sewing or knitting, activities that help us unwind have heart health benefits.
A study from Harvard’s school of medicine found knitting lowered the heart rate of participants by around 11 beats per minute – a lower heart rate is indicative of heart health.
Now we know why Tom Daley is so into it.
GP Dr Zoe Watson says: “Creativity of any kind can help us de-stress, relax and improve mental health.
“It is well known that mental health and cardiovascular health are very much linked.
“Stress pushes our levels of cortisol – the stress hormone – up, which can subsequently cause rises in blood pressure, which, if sustained, can lead to a higher risk of heart disease.
“So any activity which promotes a feeling of wellbeing and relaxation results in lower cortisol levels and therefore lower heart disease risk.”
CRACK OUT THE OYSTERS
Eating a diet rich in omega 3 fatty acids, which are found in fish and shellfish including oysters, mackerel, and salmon, reduces risk of heart disease.
Oysters have also been proven to keep blood vessels healthy by reducing the chance of plaque accumulation which negatively impacts cardiovascular health.
In a cost-of-living crisis, the good news is that a tin of tuna has the same protective benefits.
GP Dr Zoe Watson says: “We’ve long known that Omega-3 fatty acids are brilliant for helping lower triglyceride levels in the body.
“Lowering triglycerides levels in the blood reduces the risk of atherosclerotic plaque formation within the arteries.
“Any oily fish such as mackerel, tuna, salmon and herring are all brilliant sources of Omega 3.”
GO ON HOLIDAY
It’s over a decade since John Hopkins University in the US linked the Mediterranean diet to heart health and multiple scientific papers since then have found a diet high in foods including olives, grains and oils do wonders to protect heart health.
So instead of a Friday night take away, get to Greece or Spain or Italy for a healthy heart.
If you don’t feel like exercising, the good news is just stretching will help keep your ticker ticking over.
In addition to helping you relax and relieve stress, scientists at the University of Milan gave study participants a 12 week stretching course.
They found the group who stretched experienced lowered blood pressure, improved blood flow, and decreased the stiffness of arteries, all of which means less risk of heart disease.
Study Author Dr Angela Valentina Bisconti says: "Many types of cardiovascular disease begin years before overt symptoms are observed.
“Regular physical activity promotes structural heart health, but not everyone is able to participate in physical activity on a daily basis because of various limitations.
“Finding alternative interventions to promote health becomes fundamental.
“Our recent study showed that regular passive stretching, with its beneficial effects on vascular vasomobility and thus on cardiovascular risk, could be used to benefit those who are bedridden or have limited mobility, where more classical physical exercise is not feasible and cardiovascular health is of great concern."
CRACK OPEN THE RED
Research from the Mayo clinic in the US has found an occasional glass of red wine has protective benefits when it comes to heart health.
Not only does the occasional Merlot – or whatever your red of choice is – help prevent blood clot formation and artery damage
It also contains antioxidants that reduce the risk of coronary artery disease which leads to heart attacks.
Yes, you read that right. Dark chocolate contains flavonoids which are compounds which reduce inflammation as well as lowering the risk of heart disease.
Before you crack open the whole Terry’s dark chocolate and devour it though, scientists behind the research from the Baylor College of Medicine are quick to point out moderation is key.
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DON’T SKIP BREKKIE
When it comes to heart health, it turns out breakfast really is the most important meal of the day.
Researchers from the University of Iowa have found people who say they never eat breakfast had a whopping 87 percent higher risk of death from cardiovascular disease compared to those who eat breakfast every day.
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