SIX STRATEGIES for success to take back your heart health.
Did you know that heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women in the US? This means that most of us have someone in our family who has been affected, and our risk is high to develop problems during our lifetime. You CAN minimize your risk of being part of the statistic by making important lifestyle changes. Some of these changes are big, some are small – and some you may already be doing. Staying on top of your health is the BEST investment you can make in 2022 – and the years following!
Heart disease prevention strategies:
1. Eat healthy.
Easier said than done, right? So what does “healthy” mean? Well, in heart health terms it generally means less processed food and more whole foods such as fruits, vegetables, and fiber-rich grains. Lean meats and fish are recommended, especially those that are rich in Omega fatty acids. Heart health relies on a variety of vitamins, minerals, and trace minerals – which are found in a widely varied diet. Try new fruits and veggies, new ethnic foods, and new types of cooking. Using heart-healthy oils, such as olive or grapeseed oil is great for the heart too.
2. Get active.
Does this mean kill yourself at the gym 6 days a week? Not necessarily! Getting moving can mean taking walks with a friend, taking the kids to the playground, playing more often, or joining a fun Zumba class. The important thing is that you choose something you enjoy and stick with it. Small bursts of activity are not as helpful as longer periods, but those add up too! Taking the stairs, parking at the far corner of the lot, and walking on your lunch break can add up to the extra movement, extra calories burned, and lower stress.
3. Stay at a healthy weight.
Notice the word “stay.” This means sustainable weight loss – i.e. lifestyle changes, not crash diets. Yo-yoing on diet after diet is not a good strategy. Even if your sustainable weight loss is still not at your ideal weight, it is best to lose slowly and sustain those changes over time. As a consequence of healthy eating and more exercise, weight loss may come by itself. A safe rate of loss is 1-2 pounds per week, which seems slow but really adds up! Just think, in 6 months that may equal forty pounds off!
4. Quit smoking and avoid secondhand smoke.
Luckily, avoiding secondhand smoke is easier these days, with most businesses being smoke-free. However, if you live with a loved one who smokes, this may be a difficult conversation. To minimize the risk, it is best if they choose to smoke outside away from others.
Quitting smoking is a challenging task, but it can be made a little easier with the right support. Many stop-smoking aids are available these days – patches, gum, medication, and support groups. With dedication and determination, you can be a quitter too! Smoking is a leading contributor to heart disease and will almost certainly lessen your years.
5. Control your cholesterol and blood pressure.
In order to do this one, you will need to see your doctor and get a basic physical. Cholesterol and triglyceride levels are typically drawn together, at least once per year depending on your age and risk factors. You will be asked to have those drawn in a fasting state, having not eaten for at least 8 hours. Blood pressure can be monitored at home with an automatic cuff to record the effectiveness of your treatment.
If you have high cholesterol or high blood pressure, it is important to consistently take your medications and communicate with your doctor about any side effects. These two conditions can cause a lot of damage over time and also put you at higher risk for strokes.
6. Manage Stress.
Don’t laugh. We mean it. Stress is at an all-time high these days, due to factors mostly beyond our control it seems. However – there are some strategies you can use to lessen the impact on your body and mental health! Eating healthy and getting active (numbers 1 and 2) are the big ones. These simply daily habits will give your body the fuel it needs to take stress in stride and exercise helps you release healthy endorphins that help you feel better.
Some other strategies are mindful or guided meditation, journaling, and spending time with good friends. Laughter can be great medicine! Stress takes a big toll on the heart. Did you know that there is a type of myocardial infarction that is completely stress-induced? It is not a common condition, but it does happen. Stress is a powerful force that breaks down our defenses and encourages poor health.
By employing these broad strategies as part of your heart-healthy lifestyle, you will be providing yourself with the best preventative medicine available and reducing your risk for a whole list of other diseases in the process! Now get out there and write down some goals and get moving!