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How old is Your Heart?

Updated: Feb 11

Are your poor life choices catching up on you?

    ‘Sláinte agus saol agat’ is a typical Irish saying and is also found in most other languages as meaning ‘Good Health and Long Life to you’. We all aspire to have a long active life full of energy and vitality. So, why do we spiral out of control into ill health at an early age? Why do we constantly make the same poor life choices every day for ourselves and our family? It is simply easier to drive everywhere and grocery shopping is a minefield of poor quality foods.

    Although my birth certificate states that I am on the ‘right side of 50’ (just about!), I am proud to say my body is that of a 32-year-old! I may be anti-aging nowadays but for many years before 2010 my Tanita machine suggested I supported the heart and metabolism of a 71-year-old. After a huge health scare and being presented with a picture of how unwell I looked in September 2009, I made some very basic changes to my nutrition and lifestyle. Following the principles below I improved my health, vitality and energised my body; I was able to turn back time and add a few extra years to my life. 

    Your body has nearly 100,000 miles of arteries, veins and capillaries that make up your circulatory system. This system allows blood rich in nutrients to nourish the cells and organs of your body. Blood pressure is the measure of force on artery walls from the exertion of blood circulating around this system. For a healthy active lifestyle, we always require that this blood pressure be stable. High blood pressure can cause mild to extreme damage to arteries that supply blood to your brain, heart, kidneys (and all other body organs), muscles, bones, our various bodily systems and our very important cellular system.

    There are many causes of high blood pressure, with increased Cholesterol (a fat-like substance found in the bloodstream) levels being one of the most significant. The condition of atherosclerosis occurs when the sticky cholesterol attaches to the inner lining of the arteries of the heart and brain causing blockages to the blood flow through these organs. When the system is blocked (e.g. Ischaemic heart disease), it can result in heart attack or stroke.

    For such a small country, Ireland has a very high rate of heart-related deaths according to the World health Organisation (WHO); cardiovascular diseases accounted for 38.6% of Irish deaths and 20.3% of these deaths are a result of Ischaemic heart disease (1). That would equate to a figure of 1 in 3 people dying daily in Ireland of heart-related issues. Research within all WHO regions indicates that approximately 62% of strokes and 49% of heart attacks are caused by high blood pressure and high cholesterol is estimated to cause 4.4 million deaths (amounting to 18% of strokes and 56% of global ischemic heart disease) (2).

    Obesity and visceral fat are major risk factors for heart disease. Visceral fat is the dangerous fat around your stomach area and body organs that causes many health issues. This fat is measured in litres, with more than 5 litres attributed to ill health and a lack of wellness. Visceral fat can also be termed ‘skinny fat’ as the person measured may not appear to be fat; when an unwell person is tested on a Tanita machine, they often have a high quantity of visceral fat which accounts for their illness or exhaustion. Your heart health alone is reason enough to lose any extra body fat and build lean white muscle instead. 

What can you easily do to support your heart health? 

1) Start moving your body:

    Park that car a good distance away and walk to your destination. Get up and get active by walking to work, college or school. My son always said ‘Mom, we are not made of sugar so let’s go splash in puddles’. Stop using the weather as an excuse to drive and wear suitable clothing; as the saying goes in Ireland, "There is no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothes". Get walking daily or running, cycling, swimming, or join a keep fit class such as yoga. I was nearly in a wheelchair in September 2009 from a condition called Fibromyalgia and I just walked a few extra painful steps daily until I outwalked my trainer. If getting active seems impossible just ask me for a personal one-to-one session and let’s get you moving.

2) Include rest and recuperation in your daily agenda:

    The most important health benefit is sleep. Sleep deprivation has been linked to an increased risk of heart problems. Every adult needs eight hours of sleep in every 24 hours to regenerate their body. I understand you feel great after less sleep but has your body recovered enough to achieve a lifetime of healthy cellular regeneration? If getting 8 hours sleep at night seems impossible try starting tonight by going to bed only 10 minutes early. If you keep heading to bed a few minutes earlier than the night before you will find you are getting 8 comfortable hours of sleep a night and a very healthy mind and body.

3) Eat for energy and vitality:

    Junk the junk food. Our lifestyles are hectic these days and we are often tempted to rely on fast food, which is mostly unhealthy, nutrient-dense and fattening. Fast food can be empty calories and laden with bad fats that can be very difficult to burn off. If unhealthy eating patterns are a part of your diet and you are unable to make changes, then learn the benefits of supplementation. If you’re not meeting your daily nutrient requirements through nutritious food intake, supplements can fill in the gaps in your diet, helping you meet your daily essential nutritional requirements. 

    Try eating more healthy protein (lean meats, non-farmed fish, almond nuts, and organic eggs) to build lean muscle mass and reduce the percentage of unhealthy fats in your body. Plus, an increase in protein will aid sleep, body regeneration at night and overall vitality. Eat small quantities of complex carbohydrates 3 times daily for energy and vitality; if you are doing no exercise at all stick with vegetables, as an overload of carbohydrates will just turn to fats in your body. 

    Adequate raw fruits and vegetables are great sources of fibre and essential micro and phytonutrients for healthy body cells. They make a great snack twice a day to balance metabolism and sugar levels. Due to over-farming and chemicals, it is advisable to reach for organic where possible. Organic produce can also lack nutrients due to being picked unripe and ripened using unnatural methods. Therefore, at least 7-10 organic fruits and vegetables are needed daily. Vegetables added to dinner preparation should only be lightly cooked and this is also true for garlic, a great heart-healthy additive to any meal. 

    Healthy fatty acids like Omega-3 are essential for a healthy heart. Fish is a great natural source of Omega- 3; however, take care as we don’t want more fats and chemicals in the diet (such as fatty and antibiotic-laden farmed salmon or sea bass). Take care supplementing with fish oils as many are simply chemical fat with no benefits to your health; in fact, poor quality fish oils may cause prostate and other cancer. Try to totally avoid the ‘bad fats’ such as hydrogenated and trans-fats as they cause hardening of the fats inside the arteries, and we already know what happens to blocked arteries. 

4) Water is the source of life:

    An essential addition to your daily nutrition plan is fresh unboiled water. How much water? There are lots of equations to calculate your exact needs; keeping it simple is easier, so drinking at least 2.5 litres and 3 litres is a good reaching point. Water should be sipped and not gulped so the body is not working hard to process the excess liquid through the urinary system; this causes good nutrients to get washed out of the body before being absorbed into the bloodstream. Taking in only mouthfuls of water at a time will also help with regular and healthy bowel movements.

5) Eat five to six times a day:

    Eating three regular meals and two to three healthy snacks is essential for a healthy heart and vitalised body. Do not skip meals or your body will enter starvation mode and begin storing fat in the body to slowly release as energy in case you do not eat again. 

6) Avoid eating within a few hours of going to bed:

    Your body needs time to metabolise the food into nutrition for cellular health. The only process the body should have to work hard at while you are asleep is utilising the amino acids from your daily protein consumption to repair your body.

Some Top Tips for staying heart healthy this year and onwards:

    A. Use extra virgin olive oil for all cooking under 500C and plant-based oils like sunflower for oven baking. Sprays may say low calorie but are often dangerous hydrogenated or trans fats. Although some healthy fat must be consumed daily you can usually get enough in mackerel, avocados, nuts and seeds (chewed to a paste). It is not always necessary to use oil in cooking as vegetables sautéed in water and herbs and spices create a lovely flavoursome juice and stock. 

    B. Do not use reduced-fat options of dairy products, spreads, and dressings as these may lower metabolism due to chemicals or their production method. Use less real butter, etc. or swap for plant-based alternatives like soya spread.

    C. If you insist on calorie counting, keep in mind that low-fat or fat-free versions of baked items can often have the same amount of calories as the full-fat version. In many processes, fat is replaced with sugar which drives up the calories. As sugar can also add to your percentage of body fat, calorie counting is not always the answer to health, weight management and wellness.

    D. Avoid fatty meats such as beef, lamb and pork (even rashers and sausages as they only reduce metabolism). Eat more organic poultry breast, fresh fish (see below), shellfish, organic eggs and soy products for protein; these have much less fat than red meats. 

    E. Avoid farmed chicken, salmon and sea bass, if possible. Farmed chicken and fish is not only fattier than organic chicken or wild fish, but the extra fat can contain “dangerous” fat. Shellfish is not high in cholesterol and is an excellent source of protein that is very low in fat. 

    F. Use herbs, spices, lemon, onions, garlic, chillies, tomatoes, and other seasonings to flavour foods. Heavy sauces, gravies and butter are very unhealthy and should be avoided. 

    G. When eating out keep sauces and gravies to a minimum by asking for them in a separate dish. Order meats, fish or poultry that are grilled, poached, steamed, roasted, or baked. Although carbohydrates can be important for energy, some people skip this starchy part of the meal when dining out, especially if it’s likely to be fatty (e.g., roast potatoes or milky/buttered mashed potatoes). An order of double raw or steamed vegetables instead will fill you up, provide great fibre and are a source of slow-release carbohydrates for energy. 

    H. When having a salad order the dressing on the side so you can control how much you eat. Some dressings could be laced with sugar and fats to reduce your metabolism. Plus, restaurants often drench salads in high-fat dressings for flavour and to disguise that the salad is not fresh. 

    I. Wait fifteen minutes after dinner before choosing a dessert; this is enough time for your body to tell your hypothalamus that you are full. Or try fresh fruit or sorbet for dessert rather than pastries and ice cream. 

Take back your control!

    I hope you enjoy starting your journey for a healthier and vitalised New You as much as I did in 2009. For any questions on heart health, good quality supplements or book a free wellness evaluation, please make an appointment and get Your heart healthy for a younger and healthier You.

Dr. Siobhan Maher (PhD)

Call Dr. Siobhan (PhD) on 0876524623.

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1) Sources : WHO Regional Office for Europe (2004c), Robertson et. al. (2004).


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