Hearts may be everywhere for Valentine’s Day, but why don’t we use the festival of love to move past the big red emojis and focus on our actual hearts: the brilliant, beating organs that keep us alive?
This is National Heart Month and we need to pay attention: coronary heart disease (when the arteries which supply the heart muscle with blood become blocked) was the single biggest killer of women worldwide in 2019. Rates of heart disease fatalities are increasing among women in midlife, and it now kills a larger proportion of women over 55 than men. These statistics might sound frightening, but there’s a lot we can do to improve our heart health. Annabel has written previously about how omega-3 fatty acids, strength training and stress management can benefit heart health. Below are some more simple tips for a happy heart, whether you’re spending Valentine’s with a loved one, friends or solo:
HUG FOR YOUR HEART
Hug anyone, or yourself – hugging has been linked to better heart health. A simple study divided participants into two groups. One group held hands with their partner for 10 minutes, followed by a 20-second hug. The other group sat in silence for 10 minutes and 20 seconds in total. The first group had greater reductions in blood pressure levels and heart rate. And if you’re doing Valentine’s solo, use a technique known as ‘havening’, which is simple and comforting. Wrap your arms around your body, resting each hand just above the bicep of the opposite arm. Then visualise the kind of hug you want – gentle, strong, soothing – and hug away! Give yourself a good squeeze and rub your hands up and down your upper arms. 20 seconds is enough to make a difference.
POWER UP ON POTASSIUM
Research published in summer 2022 showed that a diet high in potassium can help lower blood pressure and thus protect our hearts. A large-scale cohort study tracked the diets of women, with an average age of 58, and found that higher potassium intake correlated with lower blood pressure.
Foods high in potassium include: banana, beans, peas and lentils, seafood and sweet potato.
STAY KISSABLE (!)
Research by a Japanese university, published late last year, linked periodontitis, an inflammatory gum disease, to heart health issues. Untreated, periodontitis can cause dental issues from bad breath to bleeding and lost teeth. It’s implicated in increased dementia risk as inflammation can travel from the mouth to the brain. And now it seems it can also travel to the heart. The researchers linked periodontitis to atrial fibrosis (a condition that causes an irregular and often abnormally fast heart rate). This means there could be a direct correlation between inflammation in the gums and inflammation in the heart. Make dental hygiene a priority with two minutes of brushing, followed by flossing or dental sticks, and regular trips to your dentist to look after your teeth – and your heart.
Walnuts, pistachios, pine nuts, pecans, macadamias, hazelnuts, Brazil nuts and almonds have all been linked to lower LDL cholesterol and triglycerides. Walnuts have also been linked to better blood wall function. The experts recommend around 40g – a good handful – of nuts a day to reap the benefits. Research published last month found that eating tree nuts increased levels of the amino acid L-tryptophan, which has been linked to lower risk of heart disease. It’s also converted in the body to serotonin, the so-called ‘happiness hormone’.
TAKE A WALK ON VALENTINE’S
Date night doesn’t have to mean snuggling on the sofa. Research published at Christmas in the journal Circulation found that people over 60 who walked between 6000 and 9000 steps a day had up to 50% reduced risk of a heart attack or stroke compared to those who walked 2000 steps a day. And the risk got progressively lower the more they walked, across a six-year period. Annabel’s a big fan of walking at night, and in the cold (if you’re in the northern hemisphere), so don’t let those things put you off! Plan a good long walk on February 14th, either with a loved one, friends or by yourself.
BETTER BRAIN CAMP
Better Brain Camp is my new coaching course, focussed on creating habits that reduce dementia risk and building a lifestyle that supports your brain.
It’s a four-week course with sessions at 7pm GMT, starting on Monday February 27th. Each session will be interactive and – I promise – fun! I’ll get you taking action, planning and prepping for better cognition, now and in the future.
If you’d like to know more about the course – click here for all the details
RECIPES FOR VALENTINE’S DAY
Whether you’re cooking for one, two or a crowd, we’ve got some gorgeous recipes in the archives that are great for February 14th. Don’t skimp on the chocolate, it’s been linked to better heart health in numerous studies.
Photo: Amy Robson