Look after your heart!
In the first of a new series which looks at how to help your body stay well, personal trainer (and former chef) Ian Eassom shares some tips for a healthy heart.
As Valentine’s Day approaches, what better month is there to avoid a broken heart?
It all starts with having a hearty stretch. Stretching not only makes you more flexible and strengthens your muscles; it does the same for your blood vessels too.
This will give you improved circulation, reducing your chance of a stroke or heart attack, and helping prevent your arteries from narrowing and damage.
People with stiff arteries usually have higher blood pressure and are more prone to high cholesterol and inflammation too.
Stretching can be performed using just your body weight or by adding simple equipment like resistance bands.
Although stretching is great for the heart, aerobic exercises increase your heart rate, which also helps the heart muscle that little bit more too.
Benefits of a brisk walk
Aerobic exercise isn’t just something you do on a gym machine; simply taking a brisk walk is going to get your heart rate up and pumping. Yes, it may feel too good to be true, but walking strengthens your heart and all you need is comfortable footwear!
Whether you’re at home or on a lunch break at work, getting out in the fresh air will boost your circulation and keep you alert whilst also relaxing your mind.
I like to walk taking in all the sights and sounds of the surroundings, while others prefer listening to music or podcasts. Walking is also easier on your joints than other types of exercise. It isn’t the only cardio exercise you can do without hitting the gym. Cycling is my favourite mode of transport (OK, maybe not so much in cold weather!) and uses the large muscles in your legs, helping elevate your heart rate too.
Exploring park runs
A lot of towns and cities hold a weekly park run on a Saturday morning. Lincoln’s is held at Boultham Park, with another nearby at Doddington Hall (check the website for the one closest to you, www.parkrun.org.uk).
What I especially like about these events is that they’re a great way to meet people and are open to anyone, regardless of your speed (including walking). Some participants even take their dogs on a short lead.
I especially like the Boultham Park course as there is a coffee shop nearby, which is a great meeting point with all the runners or spectators afterwards!
Whether you prefer being out in a group or going solo, events like these are great for quashing stress and anxiety, which is also going to benefit the heart in a big way.
This month, we’re focusing on one stretch in particular, which will improve your overall strength, agility and heart health.
Start standing with your feet together and squat down, sticking your bum out, so that your chest is touching your knees, depending on your flexibility and strength (alternatively you can squat as deep as you feel comfortable, and then bring your chest and shoulders forward).
Flex your hips and knees, until either your torso is horizontal or you feel a mild stretch in your hamstrings.
Bring your arms up away from the core with your palms facing upwards and getting your arms back and hands high, as far as you feel able to do so comfortably. If you’ve got it right, you’ll feel slightly like a downhill skier! Inhale as you slowly lower your arms back toward your core. Repeat this 4-8 times, keeping in the squat position and only moving your arms up and down, working that stretch each time. By the end of this stretching exercise you should feel less tension in your neck, shoulders and back, while feeling a gentle rise in your heartbeat.
Vegan Red Velvet Cake
I made this vegan red velvet cake with fresh beetroot goodness and served it to my family, who really couldn’t believe there were no eggs or dairy in it. Not only that, this cake is very straightforward to make.
I found the sponge was better when made the day before and left in the fridge overnight, making it easier to work with when putting the cream cheese topping on.
• Pre-heat the oven to 180˚C and grease two 9″ cake tins. Pour one cup of room temp milk into a jug and add a tablespoon of the vinegar. Set the mix aside until the milk curdles. In a separate bowl, mix the flour, sugar, cocoa powder and baking powder.
• Once the mix has curdled, add the milk mixture and the remaining milk, oil, vanilla essence and beetroot. Whisk for one minute using an electric mixer on the low speed; it’s important not to over-whisk, it just wants to be a nice smooth batter.
• In another bowl, whisk together the remaining vinegar and baking soda for another 30 seconds or so, and add to the main mix.
• Divide the mixture into the two cake tins and bake for 35 minutes, testing with a skewer after half an hour. Once cooked, allow to cool for a few minutes before turning onto a cooling rack to cool completely.
• To make the cream cheese icing, beat the vegan butter before adding the cream, cheese and vanilla essence. Add the icing sugar and stir in so that the mixture is nice, thick and creamy. Spread over the top of one sponge, sandwich together, and then spread over the top of the cake and the sides, if desired.
• All that remains is to cut yourself a nice big hearty slice and enjoy! That’s it for this month, I’ll be back in the spring with more exercises to enjoy during those longer, warmer days to come!
Fit Tips for a healthy heart
• Eat walnuts – rich in Omega-3 fatty acids, they help decrease inflammation in the arteries protecting the heart.
• Cut down on alcohol – excessive alcohol can cause abnormal heart rhythms, high blood pressure, damage to the heart muscle and other diseases such as stroke, liver problems and some cancers.
• Drink more water – aiming for 6 to 8 glasses a day will keep your hydration levels up, along with your energy levels, digestion, brain function, and make you less prone to headaches.
• Eat to the beat – beetroot is so good for the cardiovascular system, widening blood vessels, improving circulation and reducing the risk of heart problems.
Ian Eassom is a Lincoln-based mobile personal trainer. Ian can offer individual sessions in your own home or public space, or online, with bespoke exercise and diet plans to suit you. There’s a special offer for Lincolnshire Life readers! Visit www.ianeassom.co.uk