Freezer Friendly Foods

Making the most out of your freezer is a great way to keep a well-stocked kitchen while minimising food waste. A well stocked freezer also serves to reduce the frequency of supermarket trips.

Traditionally, frozen foods have been viewed as processed or seen as less healthy, however, these days there is so much choice when it comes to frozen healthy food as well as many fresh foods which freeze surprisingly well!

Here are our top tips to healthy, freezer friendly foods and two useful kitchen skills explained.

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Blanching:

Here is how to blanch vegetables before freezing. Blanching is a process in which you boil or steam vegetables briefly until they are partially cooked. It is an essential step before freezing many vegetables like starchy vegetables (such as potato, sweet potato, carrots and parsnips).

  1. Place the chopped vegetables in a saucepan of cold water.
  2. Put in on the stove over a high heat until boiling.
  3. Once boiling, remove from the heat and run under cold water to cool.
  4. Place the blanched vegetables into freezer bags or containers and place in the freezer.

Tray freeze:
Use this method for freezing your own fruit and non-starchy vegetables without them clumping together.

  1. Chop your veg and lay flat in one layer on a baking tray.
  2. Place in the freezer.
  3. Once frozen you can transfer to Tupperware boxes and pop back into the freezer.
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Frozen vegetables are equally as nutritious as fresh vegetables. Where they can differ is in texture with some being more suitable for freezing than others. Generally speaking vegetables with a higher water content don’t freeze as well and certain vegetables such as broccoli and asparagus can become stringy in texture. Aside from the usual: frozen peas, sweet corn and mixed veg, there are so many other vegetables that can be frozen to help make life that bit easier! Starchy vegetables (such as potato, sweet potato, carrots and parsnips) freeze best when blanched before freezing.

Diced onion:
A great idea for those who want to avoid the tears and save themselves from all that chopping! You can buy bags of frozen chopped onion and add to dishes as needed where they will quickly defrost while cooking.

Peppers:
Sliced peppers freeze very well and can then be thrown into a wok or saucepan as needed where they will defrost while cooking.

Stir-fry mix:
Whether shop bought or freeze at home, thinly sliced peppers, onions, carrots, broccoli, sweet corn and beansprouts all work well.

Spinach:
While frozen spinach won’t make for a great salad, it works well in cooked dishes such as pasta, casseroles or soups.

Tomato-based sauces:
With or without vegetables, these freeze really well. Simply defrost and serve with chicken or fish for a heart healthy meal with minimal effort.

Fruit:
Berries freeze especially well as do grapes. Frozen berries can then be added into warm porridge, grapes can be eaten frozen and bananas added to smoothies.

Avocado:
While you can freeze avocados, it does change the texture of them. They are best used from frozen for sauces or smoothies rather than on toast, for example.

Fish:
Frozen fish is convenient, less expensive and just as tasty as fresh fish.  Salmon, cod, hake, plaice and prawns are just some of the options available to us. Try to avoid breaded or battered fish and instead opt for plain or lightly seasoned. You can bake it in the oven straight from frozen with lemon and herbs and serve with vegetables and potatoes for a delicious, heart healthy meal.

Lemons:
Pre-cut slices of lemons or limes can be frozen and then used to add to dishes such as baked chicken or fish. Lemon juice can be frozen in an ice-cube tray and the cubes added to dishes or to a refreshing glass of water.

Herbs:
Fresh herbs like parsley, coriander and mint can be easily frozen and cut as needed. Alternatively you can freeze them with a little water in an ice-cube tray. Fresh ginger can be frozen and easily grated into dishes as needed. Chopped garlic can also be frozen which is a great time-saver. Equally you can buy herbs and spices frozen, however it is generally more cost effective to do so yourself.

Potatoes:
Yes, potatoes can be frozen! It’s best to chop to your desired size and avoid using very large potatoes. Blanch them first then place them in the freezer. You can then microwave, fry, bake or boil them from frozen with reduced cooking time. A great idea to pre-prepare homemade wedges.

Rice:
It’s best to slightly under-cook rice that you intend to freeze as otherwise it can crumble. Use the tray freeze method to freeze in one layer in zip-lock bags which will then defrost in very little time and can easily be added to dishes as needed.

Bread:
While some of us freeze bread regularly, most of us defrost it by the loaf which then has to be used in a couple of days. To reduce waste why not store your bread in the freezer and defrost slices as you need them?

Beans and lentils:
You can make a whole bag of dried beans or lentils at once, let them cool and then divide into zip-lock bags and store them in the freezer. When you’re ready to use them, smack the bag on the counter a few times to loosen and add directly to whatever you’re making. For best results, under cook them slightly initially and they’ll cook a little more in whatever dish you add them to.

Home baking:
With more time at home, you may be finding yourself with more homemade treats like cakes, biscuits or buns. A great way to ensure you enjoy the treats in moderation without overindulging is to freeze some to have for later. This was you won’t feel tempted to finish them off while they are still fresh!

Meals:
Many soups, stews, casseroles, chilies, curries, burgers and meatballs (raw or cooked) and pancakes (defrost in the toaster) are all popular, freezer friendly meals. Milk, raw egg (not in its shell), butter, cheese and nuts can all be frozen as well.

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Foods to avoid freezing:

  • Cream-based soups
  • Fried foods
  • Vegetables with a high water content such as cucumber and cabbage
  • Fully cooked rice or pasta
  • Hard boiled eggs.

For advice on food safety while freezing please visit Safe Food.

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A Christmas message from Croí CEO, Neil Johnson

Dear friends,

 

As we come to the close of another year, I wish to could convey our heartfelt thanks to all those who supported us this year.

Neil Johnson – Chief Executive

Like all organisations, especially in the non-profit sector, 2021 was another difficult year. Since the beginning of the pandemic, both those in need of healthcare and those providing it have been faced with huge challenges. In our work, we see at first hand the impact of COVID-19 on those living with or affected by heart disease and stroke. Not only are these conditions difficult in their own right but add the stress and worry of delayed access to care, postponed or cancelled appointments and procedures, growing waiting lists or the fear of contracting COVID-19 and you realise how important it is to be able to provide support to those who are feeling unwell and vulnerable.

Over the past year, Croí provided a lifeline to 80-100 callers a week to our HeartLink West support service which is led by our Cardiovascular Nurse Specialist and supported by our multi-disciplinary health team. This is a support, sign posting and education service which we launched when COVID-19 first struck in 2020 and we were delighted that this initiative was recognised nationally last month by winning an Irish Healthcare Award as the Best Patient Organisation Project of the Year. In the early part of this year, due to the continued shutdown of our heart and stroke centre in Newcastle, Galway, we launched a range of online recovery and risk factor management programmes which allowed us engage with hundreds of individuals throughout the west of Ireland. Last month for example we completed a very successful online lifestyle change programme called ‘Farmers on the Move’ working with the farming community in Mayo and Roscommon and we also completed a very successful face to face public blood pressure screening programme as part of our Mayo Third Age Programme in a unique collaboration with Pharmacies throughout the county. Through these opportunistic blood pressure checks, we discovered that over half of those who participated had high to very high blood pressure, a known risk factor for a heart attack or a stroke. These individuals are now on a pathway to better blood pressure control.

In November, we began a phased reopening of the Croí Heart and Stroke Centre to several hundred people where we recommenced targeted exercise and wellness classes delivered under guidelines restricted capacity. Recognising that it has been an extremely difficult time for everyone impacted by heart disease, stroke, diabetes and obesity, we reshaped our exercise programmes to focus on those most in need of support following the impact of the pandemic, something we are now calling our ‘wellness revival’ programme. Sadly, we have seen that some of the unintended consequences of the public health messaging to ‘stay at home’, has been increased physical inactivity, increased weight gain, poor dietary and sleeping behaviour and an increased prevalence of low mood and anxiety – all, individually and collectively, known risk factors for heart attack and stroke. With the easing of restrictions in recent months we were delighted to welcome back to our Croí Courtyard Apartments the families and loved ones of those receiving emergency cardiac and stroke care at GUH. These apartments offer a home from home at a time of crisis and strain when relatives need to be near their loved ones in hospital.

Despite the economic and financial burdens imposed by the pandemic on so many, we are inspired and heartened by all those who continued to contribute financially to our work throughout this difficult year. We are so grateful to everyone who got involved with our virtual fundraising events, from the Couch to the Wild Atlantic Way, to the Croí Cycle and the ever-growing Croí Night Run. As we rely totally on our own capacity to generate the funds necessary to do our work, we never take the support we receive for granted. We owe a deep debt of gratitude to all our donors, volunteers, corporate and business supporters who continue to give so freely year on year. We are also very fortunate to have an extremely dedicated and committed staff, voluntary board of directors and a large team of tireless volunteers.

It’s appropriate therefore to convey our sincere thanks to all and to wish everyone a very happy, healthy and safe Christmas.

 

Yours sincerely,

Neil Johnson
CEO, Croí

Top tips for Mindful Eating this Christmas

While Christmas is an enjoyable time, there’s no doubt that food is a central component. This can make it a challenging time if you struggle around food or have a difficult relationship with foods. Learning to eat more mindfully and intuitively can help you feel more in control around food, feel less guilt about food choices and is a valuable skill to practice throughout the year, not just at Christmas. Learning to eat mindfully takes time, however, here are our top tips for getting started:

  1. Eat foods that make you feel good – physically and mentally. For some people, this could be a creamy hot chocolate while watching your favourite Christmas movie or a mince pie with a friend. These foods might nourish our mind and our mood. Other times you might crave a piece of fruit, an extra helping of veg with your dinner or an alcohol-free day because you feel like your body is craving this. There are no ‘good or bad’ foods, just food. Same as we are not ‘good or bad’ depending on the foods we eat. Removing feelings of shame or guilt around food gives us so much more freedom and ultimately, we are more likely to choose a balanced diet.
  2. Check in with your hunger and fullness signals. Sometimes we can become out of touch with our hunger and fullness signals and not trust ourselves to know when we are hungry or full. This can often be a result of years of dieting, following restrictive meal plans and being told exactly what and when to eat. No wonder we can be scared to trust ourselves. However, we can learn to connect with these signals again. You can do this by regularly using the hunger scale (right). Ideally you would like to be around a 4 before a meal and 6 after a meal. Look out for hunger signals like stomach grumbling, constant thoughts about food, low energy levels, feeling faint or irritable. It’s also important to check in with your fullness signals, particularly at Christmas when we tend to be surrounded by endless supplies of food. We can override the feeling of fullness and intentionally eat more, sometimes to the point of feeling uncomfortably full. Check in with yourself while you are eating and if you’re starting to feel satisfied, stop. You an always come back and finish the meal later if you are still hungry.
  3. Check in with your mood. If you are craving something to eat, but you don’t actually feel hungry, check to see if this is more of an emotional hunger rather than a physical hunger. Often, we crave certain foods in response to emotions such as stress, boredom, loneliness, tiredness etc. Ask yourself ‘What emotion am I feeding?’. Over time this helps us to separate physical and emotional hunger and can help us to learn other ways of coping with our emotions. Some things that can help would be to include some gentle movement of exercise, getting stuck into your favourite hobby or taking 10 minutes to practice some mindfulness.
  4. Ditch the weighing scales. Your value is not measured by a number on the scales. Your health cannot be measured by a number on the scales. If, like a lot of people I work with, you find the scales can affect your mood and your behaviours then get rid of it. Focus on measuring your progress in other ways – are you noticing an improvement in your mood, energy levels, sleep, fitness? Do you feel like you are developing a better routine and healthier habits? Have you noticed improvements in your blood pressure, cholesterol or diabetes control? These are the ways you should measure your progress, not by a number on a weighing scales.
  5. Don’t plan to start a diet in January. You may be familiar with the cycle – restrict in November, go all out in December, and then come January 1st clear out the cupboards and go cold turkey. Only to eventually fall back into old habits after a few weeks. This approach doesn’t work long term. Finding a way of eating and exercising that is sustainable, that doesn’t restrict foods and doesn’t make us feel guilty or ashamed when we inevitably go ‘off plan’ is a much healthier and more effective approach. Why not try set goals that are realistic and achievable? For example, aim to start eating 3 meals per day and not skipping lunch, try to get one less takeaway per week and aim to go for at least 3 half hour walks each week. These are much more realistic goals than ones like saying you will cut out all sweets, chocolate, takeaways, cook all meals from scratch and exercise every day for the next year. Don’t set yourself up to fail.

Written by Aisling Harris, Croí Cardiac
and Weight Management Dietitian 

Warm-Up this Winter with Heart Healthy Porridge

Warm-up this Winter with a bowl of porridge and delicious toppings!

Did you know that porridge has been shown to help reduce cholesterol and blood pressure? It’s also packed with fibre, vitamins and minerals – making it a perfect, heart healthy breakfast.

Watch the video below where Croí Dietitian, Aisling, shares her favourite porridge toppings.

Four Croí Health Team members with their specialty

Power your Heart, Power your Life – Top Tips from the Croí Health Team

Did you know, up to 80% of heart disease and stroke can be prevented? Conditions like atrial fibrillation and hypertension – all forms of heart disease – are among the most common causes of health problems and death in Ireland. Heart disease and stroke are strongly linked to certain risk factors. Some risk factors are out of our control, like our family history and age. However, there are many risk factors that we can control, including blood pressure, cholesterol, smoking, diabetes control, physical inactivity, overweight or obesity, and stress. You can reduce your risk of experiencing heart disease or stroke by making changes that improve your risk factors, like exercising, eating a heart healthy diet and learning about your individual risk factors.

Own your heart health!

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Maeve Frawley – Heartlink West Nurse

As we age, so does our cardiovascular system. It is never too early or late to take action on our heart health! But it becomes particularly important as we approach mid-life. The number 1 Croí mantra when it comes to owning your heart health is to know your numbers in relation to those all important risk factors. By being aware of your blood pressure, cholesterol, weight, blood glucose control if you are living with diabetes, and the recommended targets for these factors; you will know when it is time to take action.

Early detection and engagement with treatment is vital for getting on top of things. Lifestyle changes, medications and other treatments can have life changing and lifesaving impacts!

Maeve’s Top Tips:

  1. Know your numbers: own your heart health by getting informed.
  2. Check it: visit your GP annually to find out about your risk factors and how you can stay on top of them.
  3. If you heart says so, just go: the signs of a heart attack include chest discomfort, discomfort in other areas like the arms, neck or jaw, shortness of breath, and other signs like nausea. Never take the risk of waiting or delaying if you think you, or someone around you is having a heart attack. Call 999 or 112 immediately.

The way to our hearts is through our stomachs!

Aisling Harris – Cardiac and Weight Management Dietitian

What we eat has a big impact on our heart health and risk of cardiovascular disease. For example, salt is the biggest contributor to raised blood pressure. 80% of the salt we eat is already found in foods. We should aim to have no more than 5g of salt per day. To give you an idea of how quickly salt intake can add up, 2 slices of sliced pan bread contains about 1g of salt – 20% of the recommended intake!

Alcohol also has a significant impact on blood pressure. The weekly guidelines for low risk alcohol intake are no more than 17 units per week for a man and 11 for a women. It also suggests to have at least 2 alcohol free days per week.

On a more positive note, there are lots of foods that can benefit our hearts. For example, porridge oats as well as beans, lentils, legumes and pulses can help lower cholesterol. Fruit and vegetables contain antioxidants that help protect the lining of our blood vessels. Oily fish, nuts, seeds, olive oil and avocado all contain heart healthy fats. Fibre, something 80% of us don’t eat enough of, plays a big role in managing cholesterol, balancing blood sugars and regulating appetite. Fibre is found in wholegrain bread and cereals, porridge, wholegrain rice and pasta, potato skins, fruits, vegetables, legumes, pulses, nuts and seeds.

Aisling’s Top Tips:

  1. Know your food: read food labels to help you choose foods low in saturated fat and salt.
  2. The basics: aim for 7 portions of fruit and vegetables per day, the more variety the better.
  3. Go green: try to reduce your consumption of red meat (to 2 times per week) and avoid processed meats.
  4. Change it up: include fish twice per week, one of which should be an oily fish and try to have a meat free day once per week – experiment with recipes that use beans, lentils or chickpeas instead of meat.

Move your body, mind your heart!

Caroline Costello – Physical Activity Specialist

Being physically active is one of the most important steps you can take to improve your health. Regular exercise has many important health benefits such as improved cardiovascular fitness, blood pressure and blood sugar control. Exercise improves flexibility, balance and coordination; it’s a great stress buster and is critical in maintaining a healthy weight. Think about the impact of these benefits on your busy daily life, whether you are taking care of children or other family members, at work or on the golf course!

The aim is to achieve at least 30 minutes a day of moderate intensity activity, five days a week (or 150 minutes a week). That might sound like a lot, but remember you will still have 23 ½ hours left in your day to do everything else!

Caroline’s Top Tips:

  1. Start small: if 150 minutes of physical activity a week seems like a lot, break it down into ten minute sessions throughout the day and build up from there.
  2. Create a routine: plan a time to do some physical activity that fits in with the rest of your day.
  3. Variety is the spice of life: make a list of enjoyable activities, such as dancing and yoga, and place them in a jar. Pick a different activity to do each week to keep things interesting.
  4. Sit less, move more: remember, everyday activities count, so look out for opportunities to be active during the day. For example, can you take a phone call standing up?

Getting from knowing to doing!

Dr. Lisa Hynes – Head of Health Programmes & Health Psychologist

Now that you know the Croí team’s top tips for charging up your heart health, it will be easy to get exercising, make those diet changes and get that blood pressure checked, right? Probably not! Taking action and making changes can be really hard. It is a lot more than just knowing what is good for us! Here is how you can help yourself make that leap from knowing to doing.

Lisa’s Top Tips:

  1. Set SMART goals: start with one thing you would really like to change, and you think you can change. Make this goal Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and put a Timeline on it – By Christmas, I will be walking 10,000 steps a day, which I will track using a pedometer.
  2. Action plan for success: make your goal a reality by putting a clear plan in place – I’ll increase my steps from my current level by 500 every week, walking around the local pitch which is well lit. I enjoy walking so I know I can do this, and I will ask my neighbour to join me to help me stick to the plan!
  3. Go easy on yourself: there will be times when life gets in the way of your well laid plans. A great way to help us make a change is to think about and remove barriers. If you know that you going to put off your walk on a rainy evening, invest in some rain gear or plan an indoor activity for those days. If you miss a day, try not to be too hard on yourself. Instead think about how to get back on the horse tomorrow.
  4. Stressed is desserts spelled backwards: busy and stressful times in our lives often bring a halt to our health and self-care routines and plans. Try to plan ahead to keep up those exercise and healthy eating plans during busy times, like the back to school transition or holiday times, and notice opportunities to up your stress management game if needed – going to bed earlier, sharing worries with a friend, taking some quiet time for yourself, trying meditation – there are lots of ways we can give ourselves the head space to allow us to make heart healthy choices.

To find out more about risk factors for heart disease and stroke and taking care of your heart health, visit www.croi.ie or email healthteam@croi.ie. Maeve, our Heartlink West nurse can be contacted from 9-5 Monday to Friday on 091-544310 if you would like some information or support.

Marie Dunican Is Managing To Live Well With Heart Failure

Let’s focus on living, because even with heart failure, you can still be you. Don’t let heart failure stop you. #HeartFailureAwareness

Like us all, Marie Dunican has had memorable birthdays. However, her most recent one proved to be more memorable than most, but for all the wrong reasons as she was diagnosed with heart failure. Despite this setback, Marie is determined to get her life back, get back to work and start living a normal life once again.

“I was diagnosed for my 54th birthday! I was often tired however I put that down to my job, but on the day it happened, I knew I wasn’t right. I wasn’t feeling great at 10pm that night and I said, ‘I need to go to hospital.’ I knew myself I couldn’t breathe, I couldn’t climb the stairs, I got really sick and my lungs were full of fluid.”

Once admitted to hospital, Marie was diagnosed and treated for heart failure. With this diagnosis, Marie was able to start adjusting her lifestyle to better manage her condition. She monitors her symptoms on a daily basis to ensure that her condition is kept in check. “I weigh myself every day and I know by my weight if it goes up in a short space of time that the fluid is building up in my lungs and I need to contact the doctor immediately.”

A hiker by nature, Marie tries to get out and exercise regularly, particularly since her diagnosis. “I would be good for climbing hills. I would be fit and I get on the bike as often as I can.” Once she was discharged from hospital, Marie contacted Croí for some support and advice on how she should manage and live with her condition.

“I was really stressed the day I rang Croí. I rang for advice and to see how I can manage this. When I spoke to the nurse in Croí, she reassured me that help is available and gave me the support and information I needed.”

Heart failure can affect different people in different ways. It is estimated that 1 in 5 people are at risk of heart failure and it is the most frequent cause of hospitalisation in people over the age of 65.

Heart Failure Awareness week runs from Oct 4th – 10th. For more information, click here.

Niall Nugent is getting back to living after heart failure diagnosis

Let’s focus on living, because even with heart failure, you can still be you. Don’t let heart failure stop you. #HeartFailureAwareness

In September 2020, Niall Nugent’s life changed dramatically. Without any warning signs, he suffered a “widow-maker” heart attack, which had huge consequences for him and his family. Due to damage to the heart muscle following the heart attack, Niall was later diagnosed with heart failure.

Niall, aged 49, is determined to manage his condition and get back to living a normal live. “After my diagnosis, I told myself I would do whatever it takes not to be in this position again.” He has transformed his lifestyle with significant changes to his diet and exercise routine. “I have got back on the bike… I wouldn’t have cycled for over 30 years and now I am cycling on a regular basis. I am also going to learn how to swim. I am doing more exercise now than I ever did before.”

Heart failure is a serious chronic condition but there are lots of things that you can do to help manage your condition, including adjusting your lifestyle, medical treatments and self-management.

Niall has experienced the benefits of Croí since he joined the Croí MySláinte Cardiac Rehabilitation Programme in 2020. The programme gave him the information, support and advice needed to return to everyday life after his cardiac event.

“From the very start, Croí has been a life-saver for me. They have helped me to learn how to live with this condition and everything I learned from them was a huge benefit. The resources and information they gave me will support me for the rest of my life.”

Heart Failure Awareness week runs from Oct 4th – 10th. For more information, click here.

Mary Hoare is all set for her latest challenge

Age is but a number for Mary Hoare. The 80 year old, who lives in Cork, has signed up for Croí’s Virtual 5km Night Run which takes place on Friday October 8. This is Mary’s second time taking part as she also did the 5km event last year.

Mary was keen to support Croí and the work they do as she has had family members suffer cardiac problems in past. In February 2020, Mary’s son John suffered a heart attack while getting into his car. It was only due to the good fortune of a trained medic who was passing the scene that John was immediately attended to and made a full recovery after a number of months of care. Mary said, “John was very young and fit, then one morning he suffered a heart attack getting into his card and it was a very scary time for him but thankfully he is now fully recovered.”

The 5km distance will not be a problem for Mary as she recently completed both the Women’s Mini Marathon and the Cork Mini Marathon on the same day! The two events had a combined distance of 16km. While earlier this summer she completed 100 Miles in a Month for the Mater Hospital. Mary is also a regular at her local park run in Cork which have recently returned, “They are a great way to get you up and moving, some Saturdays you might not feel like it but once you come back you feel great that you did it.”

Ahead of International Day of Older Persons on October 1st Mary is very keen to encourage people to get up and stay active, “Exercise is a great way to keep active and keep moving, it is also great from a social side. Some older people stay in and don’t move, but I was always active. I am in walking group that meets every Monday and it is great to get out and meet up with people and get some exercise.”

Mary is looking forward to tackling the Croí Virtual Night Run on Friday, October 8th. Join with your family, friends or colleagues to run, walk or jog the 5km distance in aid of Croí.

Own Your Time – How to maintain your healthy new habits as we return to ‘normal’ life

The pandemic presented immense challenges for many people, but it also had positive benefits for those freed from lengthy commutes and workplace stresses. Dr Lisa Hynes says now is the time to reflect on the lessons of lockdown. 

Dr Lisa Hynes is a health psychologist and Head of Health Programmes at the Croi, heart and stroke centre in Galway. Visit croi.ie for more. 

It’s not that we have more of it, it’s just that we are spending it better. One of the defining features of the past 18 months for so many has been the transition to working from home, and the enjoyment of a commodity that we are able to appreciate now more than ever. That commodity is time. Gone are the hours spent commuting from A to B, and in its place are the seconds taken to slip out of bed and clock in at the kitchen table. Of course, juggling home working with home schooling, and everything else in between, has not been without its challenges. But there have undoubtedly been benefits for our physical health. Thanks to having more time than ever to spend on ourselves, we now have time for morning sea swims. Time for lunchtime walks in the park. Time for evening runs on the streets.

But before the world opens up again and employers start to reopen workplaces, perhaps we need to take some time out. Time out to think about what we might have learned about life under Covid-19 and what we might like to hold on to as we return to our workplace habitats.

Recently, I had the pleasure of facilitating a group of cardiovascular patients. During our discussion, one woman described how working from home had provided a huge relief from long, exhausting days. Thanks to the extra time at home, and the mental and emotional space this brought, she had been able to adopt healthy new routines, such as preparing nutritious meals and getting some exercise in.

But now she was experiencing that ‘Sunday night fear’ every day as she worried about what’s on the horizon. She has a very real fear that these new routines will no longer be possible when she’s back commuting to the office and enduring a 12-hour working day.

She was afraid, angry, and frustrated at the prospect of losing all of the ground she has gained and the hugely positive impact she has experienced for her heart health.

Dr. Lisa Hynes - Head of Health Programmes / Health Psychologist

So, how to help her? It is useful to reflect that there are three key factors that drive health related behaviours capability, opportunity and motivation. Whether it is changing our diet, starting an exercise routine, or quitting smoking, a number of thing need to line up. And we wonder why it is so difficult a make a change?

But there is help in ensuring our stars align. We are creatures of habit and the strongest predictor of what we do today, is what we did yesterday. Everyone knows what it is like to want to make a change, whether it’s drinking less coffee or going to bed earlier, and how difficult that can be. The truth is, we find it hard to make changes – because it is hard. We tend to approach change with the belief that it should be easy and, if we don’t succeed, it’s our fault. We just didn’t have the “will power”.

We know that up to 90% of heart attacks and strokes can be prevented. So why is this information not enough to have us all eating salad and running marathons? It’s because knowledge is just not enough remember, we need to have the “stars” of capability, opportunity and motivation aligned for action.

Covid-19 and its associated restrictions have impacted every aspect of our lives. We all have a story about things we are doing differently. Times of transition, like now as we begin to re-open, are highly stressful. When things get messy, we seek familiarity, comfort and control. If you are finding things a bit confusing and difficult at the moment, you are not alone.

Yet times when the chessboard gets flipped also present opportunities and the chance to reflect and decide how we want things to be. One of the key issues that we need to plan for is how we will deal with the barriers that may stop us from maintaining those healthy changes the pandemic has brought about in our lives.

We now have an ideal opportunity to look ahead and identify those challenges. Once done, we can then put action plans in place to deal with them and, even more importantly, plan how to get back on that horse should we fall off. We know what’s coming, even if we don’t know when. A return to the commute and being bumper to bumper. A return to the office and the constantly ringing phone. A return to the sandwich shop and queues out the door at lunchtime. A slow and gradual return to life as we knew it.

Think about giving yourself time out now to reflect on ways you might approach these changes to best support your heart health and overall wellbeing.

There really is no time to lose.

TAKE 5 – Lockdown lessons and adjusting to post-pandemic life

 

  1. Be a pleasure seeker: Reflect on the things that you really enjoyed during lockdown and think of ways to carry them forward into your new reality.
  2. Break those barriers: If you managed to create a healthy lunch routine while working from home, why not make it the evening before so it doesn’t fall victim to the snooze button? If you’ve been loving your morning walk and slow cup of coffee, why not jump into bed ahead of your usual time so you can have an earlier start?
  3. Be real: Don’t put yourself under such pressure that you‘re setting yourself up for a fall. We can make a real difference to our heart health through simple actions completed every day. Pick one or two achievable goals and celebrate your successes.
  4. A problem shared: If you are worried about the changes ahead, talk to friends and family to see if they also have concerns. It helps to share our worries and we can also uncover opportunities to support each other.
  5. Be sociable: It may take a bit of time to dust off those social skills, but social interaction is so important for wellbeing and can really support healthy routines. Why not start a lunchtime walking group with your colleagues? You’ll be able to keep up your current exercise routine and give the afternoon slump the hump.

Part 2. How can I reduce my Blood Pressure?

In the first part of this two part series on blood pressure we discussed what blood pressure is, it’s causes and how you can identify high blood pressure. In this article we will discuss what you can do to reduce your blood pressure.

How can I reduce my Blood Pressure?

Everyone can benefit from taking measures to lower blood pressure. Even if you have a healthy blood pressure you can still take steps to ensure it remains healthy. The following lifestyle modifications can help significantly lower your blood pressure:

  • Maintain a healthy weight
  • Stop smoking
  • Reduce salt intake
  • Drink alcohol in moderation
  • Increase fruit and vegetables
  • Become more physically active
  • Try to manage stress

1. Maintain a healthy weight

It is well researched that being overweight can lead to an increased risk of high blood pressure. Maintaining a well balanced diet can considerably reduce your blood pressure. Losing as little as 10% of excess weight can lower blood pressure.

Being overweight is also a risk factor for heart disease and diabetes.

Consult with your GP/Nurse to set realistic achievable goals for weight reduction.

10% weight reduction can lower your BP by 10-20mmHg.

2. Stop Smoking

If you smoke, stop! Smoking is another major risk factor for heart disease and stroke. Once you quit, your risk of having a heart attack will be halved within two years. There are lots of different methods to help make quitting easier. Consult with your GP/Nurse to see what is suitable for you.

3. Reduce your salt intake

If everyone in Ireland reduced salt intake by half a teaspoon (2.4 grams per day), this could prevent approximately 900 deaths each year from stroke and heart disease.

People in Ireland take too much salt and this is directly linked to high blood pressure. It is the sodium in salt that affects blood pressure.

Tips for cutting down on your salt intake

  • Do not add salt to your food at the table.
  • Avoid adding salt to food while cooking.
  • Cut down on processed foods that are generally high in salt.
  • Try flavouring your foods with pepper, spices or herbs as alternatives to salt.
  • Sea salt, rock salt, garlic salt and table salt all have the same sodium content.

4. Increase your intake of fruit and vegetables

High blood pressure can be reduced by following a healthy eating plan that is high in fruit and vegetables. Adults should eat at least 5 pieces of fruit and vegetables every day. Buy lots of fruit and vegetables in a variety of colours. Fruits and vegetables have been significantly proven to help prevent diseases such as heart disease and stroke.

5. Drink alcohol in moderation

Excessive alcohol consumption is associated with high blood pressure. It can harm the liver, brain and heart. Many people find that their blood pressure improves when they decrease their alcohol consumption. Alcohol is measured in units. The recommendations for both men and women are shown below.

  • Men Maximum 17 units over 7 days
  • Women Maximum 11 units over 7 days

1 UNIT OF ALCOHOL:

  • ½ pint of beer
  • a small glass of wine (100ml)
  • 1 pub measure of spirits

6. Become more physically active

Being physically active is one of the most important steps you can take to prevent or control high blood pressure. It also helps to reduce your overall risk of heart disease. Aim for a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate intensity aerobic activity per week. One way of achieving this is a 30 minute brisk walk 5 days per week.

Tips for being more active:

  • Use the stairs instead of an elevator.
  • Get off the bus one or two stops earlier.
  • Park your car at the far end of the car park.
  • Remember any activity that leaves you warm and slightly out of breath is good

7. Try to manage your stress

Anxiety and stress may raise your blood pressure in the short term. This is a normal response and healthy blood vessels can cope with these changes. However, if your blood pressure is raised for long periods of time due to stress, this will eventually damage the walls of your arteries.

Try to develop methods of coping with stress that you can practice anywhere, a way of “switching off” for 5-10 minutes. Relaxation exercises can help to release brain chemicals that act as your body’s natural brain tranquilizers, helping to lower blood pressure, heart rate and anxiety levels.