After a year unlike any other we’ve experienced before, many of us are feeling stressed out, tired and burnt out – and as winter descends, it’s more important than ever to start looking after yourself and your health.
Maintaining a healthy heart and mind is key to keeping yourself in the right state of being. As the saying goes, a healthy mind equals a happy heart, but one without the other simply isn’t enough to keep you feeling your best. If you’re worried that you’ve let your health and wellbeing slip in 2020, then you’re not alone, and as we head towards the end of a truly trying twelve months, there has never been a better time to turn your life around.
Heart disease is one of the biggest killers in the modern world, with cardiovascular disease causing an estimated 17 million deaths worldwide, more than a third of whom fall into the middle-aged adult bracket. If that includes you, then it’s important to start putting some preventative measures in place now and splashing out on the best health insurance policy you can buy while you’re at it, private healthcare included.
There are two obvious ways to keep your heart happy, and it just so happens that both are just as beneficial to the mind. Eating a balanced and varied diet and taking regular exercise are the basics of overall health and wellbeing, and will help to minimise the likelihood of heart attacks and mental health issues alike.
But some cardiologists believe that adopting a holistic approach to your lifestyle and your diet can be beneficial, and that looking after one is just as important as the other. According to the experts, this simple but effective plan that can reduce the risk factors of cardiovascular disease – but be sure to consult a medical professional about your personal concerns before getting started.
Moving your body more and increasing your overall level of fitness is an obvious place to start – and with a few simple tweaks to your day to day lifestyle, you effortlessly integrate more activity.
Walk as often as you can. Taking a 20 to 30-minute stroll each day, which you will more than likely already do on occasion without even realising, will get your blood flowing around your body and energise you in the process, making you more likely to remain active throughout the day.
When you’re relaxing at home in your luxurious living room, don’t be tempted to sit in the same position all evening. Instead, take part in some armchair exercise and get those arms and legs moving in your chair. This will help you to keep the blood flowing and burn a few calories, all from the comfort of your sofa – minimal effort required!
Taking up yoga or pilates is a great option for building resilience and strength, and will improve your flexibility and help to protect your muscles and joints long-term. It can also help you to develop an improved posture, which will minimise those unwanted aches and pains as you age.
Ultimately, the goal here is to try not to sit for long periods, as this can increase your risk of heart disease and diabetes. Taking any form of physical exercise – even the gentle kind – won’t just protect you from this, but will also result in the release of endorphins, which help you to feel more positive and helps you to relax your mind.
Yes, that’s right – exercise truly is as beneficial for the mind as it is for the heart – which is why many medical professionals today recommend it as the first line of treatment for mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety, and as a means of prevention, too.
Overhaul your diet
Eating and keeping your body refuelled is also essential for good heart and mental health. The proverb ‘let thy food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food’, which is ascribed to the Greek physician Hippocrates back in 460 BC, is particularly relevant here, because we really do become what we eat. Choose the wrong foods, and your diet can quite literally make you sick – but a varied and well-balanced diet is the cornerstone of all-round health.
Having a well-balanced diet can dramatically improve your health, mindset and general wellbeing. When considering what foods to put on your plate each day, nutrition should be your priority. If a food has no nutritional value or benefit to your health, then it’s off the menu – while fresh, natural and organic ingredients should be your first port of call.
The majority of us consume too much salt on a daily basis, but this is not good news for our hearts. So, keep your intake to a minimum and turn to herbs and spices to flavour food where possible. A sprinkle of salt here and there isn’t a problem, but be careful not to go overboard.
Reducing artificial fats in your diet, such as those often found in crisps and snacks, and reducing your consumption of dairy products, is also a wise move, and will reduce the likelihood of your arteries becoming clogged and leading to heart disease later on. Replace hydrogenated oils and saturated fats with healthier alternatives, for example, raw nuts and seeds, avocados or fresh salmon are all good sources of heart-healthy fats.
And finally, be sure to drink plenty of water each day to stay well hydrated and limit your alcohol intake.
Keep track of key health indicators
Now that we’ve covered diet and exercise, there are several key indicators of heart health that you should keep an eye on, and one or two risk factors, too.
As you age, it’s important to keep regular track of your cholesterol levels – you can buy a simple test kit to check this from a pharmacy, which makes it easy to do at home. Your doctor will check your blood pressure each time you visit – and many surgeries offer mobile machines where you can check your own. If any of your past readings have given you reason for concern, then you may wish to invest in a blood pressure machine you can use whenever you want to at home.
Check your weight regularly and keep on top of any weight gain issues, too – as obesity can increase your risk of developing heart disease. If you have any concerns, seek advice from a medical practitioner.
Reduce stress and nurture your mind
Now that you’ve taken care of your body, it’s time to take care of your mind, too. Stress, anxiety and depression have become increasingly widespread in recent years, and as well as proving detrimental to your mental health, if not managed effectively then it can also have a worrying impact on your heart, too.
Taking time out for regular self-care – be it a hot bath, massage or an afternoon with a good book – and staying connected with family and friends is important for maintaining your wellbeing, but there are a few other things you can do, too.
Learning the art of deep breathing is a great way to take control over feelings of stress and anxiety, and is a quick and effective way to restore some calm. It can also increase the levels of oxygen in your bloodstream and help you to maintain your blood pressure at a safe level – it’s a small thing to add into your daily routine, but has a powerful all-round effect.
Take up meditation and learn to listen to yourself and your intuition. Meditation is a relaxing way to alleviate stress, reconnect with yourself and practice mindfulness, which has been shown to help people feel calmer and more positive in general.
If you’re the creative type, then be sure to nurture your talents. If you’re not quite sure what they are yet, then this is a great opportunity to try something new. Take up art, singing, or dancing and engage in the beauty of creative pastimes. This type of activity can help to release all forms of stress and anxiety, raise energy levels, restore vitality, and help to keep you in a positive, upbeat mindset.
The bottom line
Taking care of your health – whether heart, mind or both – can often feel like an overwhelming task, but in actual fact, with a few small changes to your daily life, it couldn’t be easier. After a trying year all round in 2020, there has never been a better time to put yourself first. You now have a solid blueprint you can use to get you started – the rest is up to you!