Tips for a Strong, Healthy Heart
Heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women in the United States. Roughly 90 percent of middle-aged people and 74 percent of young adults have one or more risk factors for heart disease, such as diabetes, high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol, or being a smoker or overweight. Having multiple risk factors increases your risk for heart disease.
And as we learn more about COVID-19, it’s becoming increasingly evident that those with underlying conditions such as cardiovascular disease face increased risk. More specifically, CDC research shows that those with heart disease are six-times more likely to be hospitalized and 12-times more likely to die than patients without chronic health conditions. The latest data shows that one in three people with COVID-19 has cardiovascular disease, which makes it the most common underlying condition.
With this in mind, and considering that February is American Heart Month, it’s more important than ever that we prioritize healthy hearts. But don’t worry about making big changes all at once. Small steps are all you need to get you where you want to go.Here are a few tips you can use to begin prioritizing heart health in 2021 and beyond:
Eat a Healthy Diet
- You are what you eat! A healthy heart begins with a healthy diet. Consider implementing the following tips to improve your overall heart health:
- Stay away from fad diets. Instead, try making small, healthy adjustments and concentrate on establishing a healthy eating pattern that you can follow on a daily basis.
- Rather than eliminating the foods you love, switch to smaller portions.
- Add fiber-rich foods to your diet, such as whole grains, legumes, fruits, and vegetables.
- In addition to fiber-rich foods, build your plate with lean proteins, low-fat dairy products, and healthy fats.
- Avoid sugary drinks or empty calorie foods.
- Limit sweets, fatty or processed meats, solid fats like butter, and salty or highly processed foods.
- Avoid partially hydrogenated oils.
How much exercise is enough? Aim for at least 2.5 hours of physical activity each week. (That’s just 30 minutes a day, five days a week.)
In addition, do muscle-strengthening exercises two days a week. Can’t carve out a lot of time in your day? Don’t chuck your goal, chunk it! Try 10 or 15 minutes a few times a day. NHLBI’s Move More fact sheet provides ideas to get and keep you moving.
Here are some good pointers to get you moving in the right direction:
- Look for opportunities to move more during the week: Take the stairs whenever possible, stretch at your desk, or go for a brisk walk on your lunch break.
- Try walking. It’s a great, low-impact way to stay fit and get more activity.
- Too busy to walk? Try splitting walks into shorter sessions that fit your schedule – like a short walk during your lunch break.
- Get the right gear. Make sure your athletic shoes fit properly. Look for breathable, moisture-wicking clothes. Wear layers in the winter and protect yourself with sunscreen in the summer. (Remember, you’re more likely to stay motivated when you’re comfortable!)
- Stay hydrated with water and refuel between periods of activity with healthy snacks.
- Don’t forget to build in time to warm up before physical activity and to cool down afterward.
- Get the whole family involved. Go to the park or try a hiking trail. Make your social time active and encourage everyone—family and friends alike—to think of fun activities that get you off the couch and moving.
Wellness isn’t something you can do for 10 minutes a day. You have to be intentional about architecting a healthy lifestyle. And that starts with doing the following:
- Lose weight if you need to (and learn how to keep it off).
- Quit smoking. To help you quit, ask others for support and/or join a support group. There are many free resources to help you quit, such as apps, a motivational text service, and chat lines at BeTobaccoFree.hhs.gov and Smokefree.gov. (If you need extra motivation to quit, think about those around you: Breathing other people’s smoke, called secondhand smoke, is dangerous. Thousands of adult nonsmokers die of stroke, heart disease, and lung cancer caused by secondhand smoke.)
- Manage your stress. Activities such as walking, journaling, or indulging a hobby you love are all great ways to decompress.
- Try an activity such as Yoga, known for both its calming effect and its ability to improve strength and flexibility.
- Don’t overlook your emotional or mental health. If you need help, get counseling, or talk to someone.
- Consider adding mindful meditation to your daily routine. Even just a few minutes a day has been shown to improve cardiovascular health and overall well-being.
- Make self-care a priority. Pay attention to what is happening in your life and schedule some downtime, if necessary. Instead of watching TV before bed, relax by listening to music, reading, or taking a bath.
- Get enough sleep. Sleep can influence eating habits, mood, memory, internal organs and more.
Talk to Your Doctor
In addition to these tips, it’s important to get a regular, annual physical. Also, be sure to talk to your doctor and bring up any concerns or relevant factors. Make sure he or she is aware of any family medical history that includes cardiovascular disease.
You won’t necessarily have the same issues as other family members, but your doctor can help unpack some of the risk factors so that you can make healthy lifestyle choices to lessen your chances of heart disease down the road.
If you would like to discuss your health or any concerns you may have, contact one of our cardiac specialists at Meadows Health Cardiology today.