Your heart is a muscle. Exercise makes it beat faster, enabling blood to flow quicker, carrying more oxygen and nutrients to your cells and drawing away toxins and excess cholesterol.
But there's good news for exercise-dodgers, too. Certain foods can also improve your body's ability to pump blood. It's never too late to start eating heart-friendly dishes. Take the easy-to-make mackerel dish below, for example: it is rich in omega-3 good fats as well as capillary-strengthening vitamin C and blood-thinning garlic – all of which is good news for your heart.
REMEMBER, FATS ARE GOOD
Your body needs fat – but preferably only good fats, the ones with essential fatty acids that are found in seeds, nuts and oily fish. These fats may actually protect against heart disease by making your blood less sticky and reducing the likelihood of clots forming. Good fats also build healthy nerve tissue and form powerful hormones, and they may also help lower blood pressure.
Eating too much saturated fat and taking too little exercise will increase the amount of bad cholesterol in your body. High levels of cholesterol can lead to the formation of fatty plaques, which may narrow arteries.
The easy ways to reduce saturated fats is to avoid processed foods, fatty meats, full-fat milk and dairy products. By avoiding processed foods, you should also be able to avoid man-made trans fats, which prevent the good fats doing their job. Grill, steam, bake and roast your food, rather than fry.
FOOD RICH IN VITAMIN E
Vitamin E is fat-soluble, so you need to eat fat to be able to absorb this valuable vitamin. Vitamin E-rich foods reduce platelets sticking together, lower blood pressure and help strengthen blood vessels. Stock up on avocados, green vegetables and wholegrains as well as nuts and seeds, which are all rich sources of vitamin E.
If you are taking medication for blood pressure, be aware that vitamin E-rich foods and garlic work the same way as the medication and thin the blood.
WHAT TO COOK TO KEEP YOUR HEART HAPPY
Grilled mackerel with ginger and garlic
How to prepare: Combine one tablespoon of finely chopped fresh ginger, one tablespoon of finely chopped garlic and two tablespoons of lime juice in a small bowl. Place two mackerel fillets in the bowl and leave to marinate for 10 minutes. The lime juice will 'cook' the flesh slightly and you will see the flesh turning white. Grill the mackerel, skin-side down, with spices piled on top, for about five minutes till lightly browned; there is no need to turn. Serve with vitamin C-rich lime wedges and some vitamin E-rich brown rice. Serves two.