Modern Fitness: Strategies for maintaining heart health

Heart disease is the most common cause of death in Mississauga - according to the 2005 Peel Health Status Report, 24% of deaths in Mississauga were related to the heart.
The good news is that many forms of heart disease are easily preventable simply by moderating certain lifestyle factors.
Did you know that February is Heart Month? Here are a few interesting ways you can increase your heart health.

Drink a little

Yes, we’re talking about alcohol. Studies show that drinking two alcoholic beverages per day can reduce your risk of heart disease by as much as 30 percent.

It doesn’t matter what you drink. Red wine gained popularity for its high antioxidant content found in the grape skin. Yet new studies are arising that show that beer and other forms of alcohol are just as good for your heart. Not only do they reduce bad cholesterol known as LDL but also they increase good cholesterol known as HDL. This reduces plaque buildup in your heart, staving off potential heart blockages or heart attacks.

Make sure to stay within your 2 glass maximum per day.  While two drinks per day are shown to increase heart health, more can weaken your heart muscles.

Get up and move

Physical inactivity increases your risk of heart disease by 50 percent. That’s just too high to ignore. 

We often think of heart pumping cardio as the only way to increase heart health, but did you know resistance training strengthens the heart too?

When curling a five pound weight, doing a few crunches or moving through a few yoga poses, the pressure in your heart walls increase. In order to counteract this pressure over time your heart grows stronger and thicker in order to push against the pressure and evacuate the blood.  This in turn makes for a stronger, more efficient heart.

While cardiovascular fitness is still of the utmost importance - we should be accumulating 150 minutes of moderate physical activity or 75 minutes of vigorous physical activity per week - for those who lack initial energy to go for a run, it’s nice to know that doing a resistance exercise followed by a short break still provides yourheart with healthy benefits.

Cut back on saturated fats - that includes coconut oil

Saturated fats are bad for heart health because they raise unhealthy cholesterol known as LDL. It is estimated that saturated fats found mostly in meat products and solid at room temperature cause approximately 31% of heart disease.

Coconut oil has gained in popularity over the past few years as being a healthy exception to saturated fats. Coconut oil is known as a medium chain triglyceride, making it easier for the body to break down the fats, providing antioxidants that increase heart health and increase healthy cholesterol known as HDL. While short term studies do show that coconut oil raises HDL cholesterol, coconut oil also raises levels of LDL (bad cholesterol) too. If you’re looking for a healthier substitute for solid fats such as butter or lard while cooking baked goods, coconut oil may be better but the problem begins when we substitute unsaturated fats for coconut oil. Unsaturated fats such as olive oil or avocado oil are essential for heart health. They increase good cholesterol and simultaneously lower bad cholesterol.  If we cut them out and use coconut oil instead, we’re doing our hearts a great disservice.

If you’ve been cooking with coconut oil because you’re under the impression that it’s healthier to cook with it at higher heat, think again.  Avocado oil is an unsaturated fat that has a higher smoke point than both coconut oil and olive oil combined.  

Alicia Jones, BH Kin, CPTS is a Mississauga and surrounding GTA fitness expert with over 10 years of experience. She is the founder of Destination Fit, a fitness company dedicated to helping people develop their unique healthy lifestyles. She is a fitness writer, a blogger at Alicia Jones Healthy Living and lead health and fitness expert for Modern Mississauga.