Heart Health Tips

Heart Health Tips, Part 4: Nutrition

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In our first blog of this series, we noted lifestyle factors to improve heart health: quitting smoking, avoiding obesity, an increase in physical activity, a healthy diet, and stress reduction. In that post we discussed quitting smoking; in Part 1 we offered mindfulness techniques easily accomplished in the workplace; in Part 2 we offered the opportunity to get your own heart-shaped stress ball, a mindfulness tool to keep on your desk; and last week, in Part 3, we shared a list of exercises to help get you moving at your desk or on your break. While exercise can play a huge role in avoiding obesity, having a healthy diet is likely to make the most difference. Thus our final post of the series focuses on nutrition: what should you snack on, add to your packed lunch, and order at restaurant lunch meetings to help keep the pounds off – and keep the heart (and taste buds) happy.

1.) Nuts: A handful (or 1oz) of nuts consumed daily can reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease by up to 30 percent. Among the best are walnuts, almonds, hazelnuts, pecans, cashews, and pistachios. Opt for a raw/unsalted variety to ensure you’re not getting any unintended additives.

  • If you prefer the flavor of roasted nuts try preparing some at home: preheat your oven to 250, measure 1 cup of raw/unsalted nuts, add 1 tbsp of avocado or coconut oil, mix together in a bowl with seasoning, then spread on a parchment paper covered cookie sheet and roast for 1 hour. Seasoning variations: Sweet: ¼ tsp sea salt + 1 tsp cinnamon + 1 tsp coconut sugar. Salty: ¼ tsp sea salt + ½ tsp garlic powder + ½ tsp onion powder.
  • Nut butters are also a tasty and versatile desk snack: stick to 1 tbsp at a time, opt for a brand with a lesser amount of ingredients, and try to avoid anything with added sugar and salt.

2.) Fresh Fruit: Along with nuts, apples showed up on almost every list of heart-healthy snacks we encountered. They’re high in antioxidants and pectin, which both help to reduce cholesterol levels. Try dipping apple slices in nut butter!

  • Other heart-healthy fruits include blueberries, grapes, melon, avocado and grapefruit.

3.) Garbanzo Beans (Chickpeas): All beans are a good choice when it comes to heart health, but garbanzo beans are a standout. They’re packed with soluble fiber, which helps to lower cholesterol; and they contain antioxidants, potassium, and omega-3 fatty acids.

  • Grab some hummus or snack on garbanzo beans right out of the can. Opt for brands that contain only these three ingredients: garbanzo beans, water, and sea salt. Try this recipe for a delicious crunchy, roasted version. Don’t be scared to switch up and alter the seasonings to suit your personal taste.

4.) Tips for when eating out: (1) Avoid sweetened beverages; opt for water or unsweetened tea. (2) Salads are always a great option but avoid high-calorie toppings, such as bacon, croutons and cheese. Plus ask for oil and vinegar instead of salad dressing. (3) Be mindful of portion size. Ask for a takeout box and separate your meal in two, putting away half for the next day. (4) Don’t snack on pre-lunch appetizers.

RECIPE SUGGESTIONS: Avocado Toast, Detox Salad, Buddha Bowl, Rainbow Slaw

If you found value in our American Heart Month inspired workplace heart health blog series, please let us know by adding a “Paper Clip” comment. We’d love to hear your thoughts!

Heart Health Tips, Part 1: Stress  

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Let’s face it, our daily lives don’t allow for much mental stillness. We’re rushing from meeting to meeting, trying to stay on top of a mountain of emails and attempting to remain as productive as possible – with constant interruption; all while making an effort to maintain work-life balance.  It’s a lot to stomach. You’ve probably heard the term “mindfulness” – and as overwhelming it might sound, it turns out it doesn’t take much to quiet the crowded thoughts in our minds. Try incorporating one of these practices into your routine, and not only will it decrease your stress level, but a regular mindfulness practice is known to increase productivity as well.  And – bonus – it will contribute to a healthier heart!

1.)  Rest on your breath

  • Research shows that we release the most stress hormones within 30 minutes of waking. By thinking of the day ahead, we trigger our fight-or-flight response which releases cortisol (the stress hormone) into our blood, increasing our heart rate and anxiety. So, when you first wake up try this: spend two minutes in your bed simply noticing your breath; as thoughts pop up let them go and return to resting on your breath.
  • To take it a step further, try placing your hands on top of each other, palms down over your upper chest and breathe slowly and gently, in through your nose and out through your mouth. Feel your chest raise as you inhale and your lungs empty fully with your exhale. Localizing the area of motion and breath to underneath your hands. Take 3-5 long deep breaths in this way. Repeat the process with your hands placed at the bottom of your breastbone, and then again with your hands over your belly button. It’s normal for one area to be more difficult than another; if that happens, move to the area that was most comfortable and focus there for another round or two.

2.)  Come into your body

  • Take a seat making sure you’re in proper alignment. Your sitting bones should be firmly against your chair (you might need to gently tuck your tailbone forward) and your feet firmly planted on the ground. Stack your shoulders over your hips and your ears over your shoulders. Take a few long, deep breaths – in through your nose and out through your mouth. Start a gentle scan of your body identifying areas you’re holding tension and attempt to release it by softening those areas. Don’t be afraid to gently stretch or adjust your body and remember to keep breathing. Begin with your toes, moving up to your knees, legs, hips and torso – move on to your wrists, shoulders, and neck – then to your jaw, face and finally the top of your crown. Do this anytime you’re at your desk, in the breakroom, or even standing in the office restroom. This simple practice will help you be more mindful of your body and relieve tension.

3.)  Focus on your predominant senses

This simple practice helps train our awareness. By sitting with our senses, we’re able to gain more clarity and develop the skill of responding to stressful situations rather than reacting. Begin by closing your eyes and noticing how it feels just to sit, allowing whatever feelings come up. When a thought arises, redirect your attention to the present moment. Sit with each sense for a minute or two.

  • Hearing: Sit, letting your mind absorb the sounds around you. Don’t strain looking for sounds, just notice what’s there. Don’t judge, or put words to them, just listen. There may be sounds that last a long time, sounds that come and go, or maybe nothing at all. You might hear your own breathing or the sounds of nature or traffic. Focus on resting your mind letting all go but the sounds around you. You’ll get distracted, thoughts will enter your mind and it’s normal. Simply bring your attention back to the sense of hearing.
  • Touch: Make the switch by paying attention to how it feels to sit. Notice the sensation of your legs and back against your chair and the contact between your clothing and skin. Keep your attention with the whole sense of the body, remaining open. Notice when a sensation demands your attention but allow the whole body to remain relaxed. Watching feelings and sensations pop up and move on. As with hearing you will get distracted but don’t beat yourself up. Instead, lean back into the sense of touch. Remaining relaxed and open.

Meditation and mindfulness practices can seem like hard work; often we are constantly needing to redirect our attention, to bring ourselves back, and that’s okay! Over time, the ability will grow – and as it does, it’ll be easier to calm your thoughts. With emotions regulated, you’re empowered and able to effectively manage stress.

We hope these tips in mindfulness have inspired you to take action towards a healthier heart!

APP SUGGESTIONS: Buddhify, Calm, Headspace, Simple Habit

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