Men’s health: Cardiovascular health
Be heart smart
We have a lot to thank our hearts for – pumping blood, oxygen and nutrients around our bodies’ non-stop for years on end. But while this organ may be a workhorse, it’s still vulnerable to the trappings of modern life: unhealthy dietary choices, a lack of exercise, smoking, and drinking to excess – all of which conspire to hijack its performance. And although poor cardiovascular health affects men and women, men, on the whole, need to exercise a little more caution.
Plant-based eating is all the rage right now. Aside from supporting the environment and banging the drum for animal welfare, eating foods that derive exclusively from plants – vegetables, fruit, pulses, grains, legumes, nuts and seeds – may also work wonders for your health, especially where the cardiovascular system is concerned. Notable trials, including the work of Caldwell Esselstyn (1980-present day), The Lifestyle Heart Trial (1990), and The Courage Trial (2007), all provide compelling evidence that plant-based eating may improve overall heart health. (25)
Did you know?
According to the British Heart Foundation, more than 7.4 million people are currently living with a heart condition in the UK, 3.5 million women and 3.9 million men. (24)
The Mount Abu Open Heart Trial (2011)
In one trial, researchers evaluated the impact of plant-based nutrition on 123 cardiac patients. (26) Participants on a wholefood, plant-based diet reported a staggering 91% trend towards regression of plaque inside their heart vessels.
In stressful situations, your body releases a surge of adrenaline and cortisol – stress hormones that trigger a cascade of physiological effects: your heart pounds, breathing speeds up, and palms get sweaty. Collectively, these reactions are known as the ‘flight or fight’ response. Experiencing chronic stress means your body is in a perennial state of alert – and this can take its toll on the cardiovascular system. Stress and overwhelm can lead to chest pain, increased heart rate, palpitations and even elevated blood pressure – all of which can affect heart health over time.
Pack in the fresh produce: Eat at least five portions of fruit and vegetables every day. These plants are crammed with healthy fibre for your heart.
Choose whole grains: Whole grains help to power up your heart health. Quinoa, brown rice and oats are excellent heart-healthy additions.
Limit artery-clogging foods: Reduce your intake of saturated fats (often found in high-fat dairy foods, cured meats, fatty cuts of meat and biscuits) and trans fats (often lurking in frozen meals, baked goods and fast food).
Go for healthier fats: Choose extra virgin olive, canola and rapeseed oil instead of saturated fats. Rapeseed oil is a particularly brilliant culinary companion because it can be used at high temperatures.
Take it easy on the salt-shaker: Try to cook without salt and limit your consumption of ultra-processed foods, which are generally high in sodium.
Smoking cigarettes. Research consistently highlights the relationship between smoking and poor heart health. (27)
Drinking excessively. Habitually drinking alcohol to excess will eventually get the better of your heart.
Having one too many coffees. Caffeine raises the blood levels of adrenaline, which temporarily elevates heart rate and spikes blood pressure. Try to drink no more than 2-4 cups of coffee or tea daily.
Clocking less than seven hours each night. Just one night of broken sleep is enough to disrupt the delicate status quo of your cardiovascular system.
Maintaining poor oral hygiene. Oral health and heart health are intimately linked.
For the ultimate heart-health-hug, you may want to add the following to your diet.
CoQ10 is found in the mitochondria of your cells, where glucose is converted into the energy your body needs. Interestingly, the heart contains the highest concentrations of CoQ10. Cholesterol-lowering medication can deplete the body of CoQ10, so it may be worth adding this to your diet if you take statins. Eat it: sesame seeds.
Plant sterols have a similar structure to the body’s own cholesterol. These substances may contribute to the maintenance of normal blood cholesterol levels.** Eat it: sunflower seeds.
An important multi-tasking mineral, magnesium contributes to normal muscle function. Eat it: brown rice.
Omega-3 fatty acids
Abundant in oily fish, omega-3 fatty acids contribute to the maintenance of normal blood pressure.*
Eat it: wild salmon.
* A beneficial intake is obtained with a daily intake of 3 grams of EPA and DHA
** A beneficial effect is obtained with a daily intake of at least 0.8g of plant sterols
- Bhf.org.uk. (2019). Heart statistics. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.bhf.org.uk/what-we-do/our-research/heart-statistics
- Esselstyn C. B. (2017). A plant-based diet and coronary artery disease: a mandate for effective therapy. Journal of geriatric cardiology : JGC, 14(5), 317–320.Wheatley, D. and Bass, C. (1991). Can Lifestyle Changes Reverse Coronary Heart Disease? The Lifestyle Heart Trial. British Journal of Psychiatry, 158(2), 264-267; Boden WE, O'Rourke RA;Teo KK, et al. Optimal medical therapy with or without PCI for stable coronary disease. New Engl J Med. 356:1503–1516
- Gupta, S., Sawhney, R., Rai, L., Chavan, V., Dani, S., Arora, R., Selvamurthy, W.,Chopra, H. and Nanda, N. (2011). Regression of coronary atherosclerosis through healthy lifestyle in coronary artery disease patients--Mount Abu Open Heart Trial. Indian Heart J, 63(5), 461-9.
- Bhf.org.uk. 2020. Smoking. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.bhf.org.uk/informationsupport/risk-factors/smoking