Given heart disease is the single leading cause of death in Australia (killing one of us every 12 minutes) it’s worth being across the things that can make a difference to your ticker. Someone who knows all about this is Dr Nikki Stamp, a heart surgeon (or cardiothoracic surgeon if you wanna be fancy) – one of only 11 women to earn that title in the country.
She’s badass, and she knows what’s up when it comes to your heart. Here’s a few that might surprise you…
Excuse the stereotype, but chances you’ve never sobbed into a tub of ice cream because John/Jack/James/Jessica broke your heart are slim to none. Aside from ruining your day and blowing your calorie count – nursing a broken heart sucks, and it also sucks for your health.
“There are so many stressful things that happen in our lives, and you do feel it in your body,” explains Dr Stamp. “It’s that chest tightness, your heart racing, and it’s all driven by your emotions, setting off a cascade of hormones that were designed originally to help us fight off sabre tooth tigers. Everything’s kind of on edge, so we do feel these funny aches and pains as the nervous system gears up. It doesn’t mean you’re having a heart attack, even though it feels like your heart’s about to explode with sadness, but it does affect your physical health.”
We all know a truckload of stress is unlikely to be good for us, but a little stress is OK, right? It can motivate us, make us more efficient, and hell – it’s a biological imperative to ensure we’re safe from those tigers Dr Stamp was talking about. Whether you’re running from big cats, a toddler or a scary boss – here’s what you need to know about stress and its impact on your health over the long term.
“It’s sort of a symptom of our modern lives, but it’s really hard to look after yourself when you’re burning the candle at both ends, working too hard, or when you feel like everything’s getting on top of you,” says Stamp.
“Over time, that stress will eventually erode your mental health and your ability to do simple things that are good for your health. When I’m tired and run down, one of the first things to go is my self-care, my exercise, my eating. To be healthy, there’s this pressure to be running five kilometres every day, doing yoga, practising mindfulness, meal prepping for the week and making beautiful meals every night – but we need to wind that back. Just take good care of yourself all the time in a way that’s manageable. Doing something is always better than doing nothing.”
You know what would be SUPER convenient? If someone packaged all the vitamins and minerals we need into a convenient little capsule we could take daily to make us healthier... Oh wait, there’s a billion-dollar industry trading on just that, but do they work? Dr Stamp says she’s not convinced.
“For most of us, particularly in a developed country and for people who are educated and middle class, a lot of us get all the nutrients we need from the food we eat,” she explains.
“Take oranges and vitamin C for example, if you just have a vitamin C tablet, sure you get the Vitamin C, but if you have an orange you get the vitamin C, you get fibre, you get water, you get all these other good things that come in a whole food. I think that’s where pseudo-science and wellness kind of goes wrong, we get too focused on particular nutrients or parts of a food. We don’t eat nutrients, we don’t eat supplements, we eat foods, and if we just had a pretty balanced diet, really boring food pyramid stuff, that’s probably all we need.”
A good cuppa
Tea and coffee drinkers rejoice – your daily brew gets the tick. And if you’re a fan of a glass of red wine, it’s your lucky day too.
“Green tea, black tea, there are good studies to show they have compounds in them that are good for heart health, blood vessel health, cancer and brain health, and the same goes for coffee and to some extent red wine,” Stamp says. “Of course, if you drink too much it’s bad for you, so only drink these things because you want to, because you like them. You’re not going to drop dead early because you don’t enjoy green tea.”
Cheers to that.