The path to having a healthy heart starts with putting more importance on eating healthy foods, getting enough exercise, and limiting your stress.
Being heart healthy takes a series of steps that include good nutrition, exercise, and positive lifestyle habits.
You can judge for yourself how heart healthy you are by paying attention to these steps and how closely you follow them.
How to have a healthy heart
Your nutrition, for instance, is paramount. You should be eating lots of fruits and vegetables every day. You should also stock up on whole grains, seeds, fat-free, and low-fat dairy foods, protein-rich foods such as fish, poultry, eggs, legumes, and monounsaturated and polyunsaturated oils.
You should eat the right amount of calories for your body, which will vary based on your sex, age, and level of physical activity. That will help control your weight and help prevent diabetes.
One rule of thumb is the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Dietary Guidelines for Americans, which explains in detail the latest findings on healthy eating. Nutrients to limit include sodium, saturated and trans fats, and added sugars.
Get more exercise
Second, it’s important to know how active you are. Being sedentary is definitely a heart health risk. The prevailing view is that the more active or fit you are, the less risk you have to develop coronary heart disease.
Up to 250,000 deaths per year in the U.S. are attributable to a lack of physical activity. Studies that followed large groups for many years have documented the protective effects of physical activity for a number of noncardiovascular chronic diseases as well, such as non–insulin-dependent diabetes, hypertension, osteoporosis, and colon cancer.
Benefits of exercise on cardiovascular factors include an increase in exercise tolerance, reductions in body weight, blood pressure, and bad (LDL) cholesterol, and increases in good (HDL) cholesterol and insulin sensitivity.
Smoking and alcohol
You can certainly improve your heart healthiness if you quit smoking and cut down on alcohol consumption. Many studies detail the evidence that smoking is a major cause of coronary heart disease, which can lead to a heart attack.
One 2016 study affirmed the risk between alcohol abuse and cardiac disease. Alcohol abuse is associated with a three-fold risk of heart failure. There is voluminous research on alcohol and its role in the risk of cardiovascular disease
The role of stress in heart health
There’s also a psychological component to heart health. One study found that being cheerful and having a positive attitude could actually protect you from having a heart attack.
Similarly, a number of studies identified higher levels of stress and heart risks. One found a link between the stress hormone cortisol in elderly people’s hair and increased risk of cardiovascular disease.
How to live a healthy lifestyle
Substituting good habits for bad habits is easier said than done, but some simple tips can help you turn things around even when habits have been engrained for years.
“An unhealthy habit is easy to develop and hard to live with; a healthy habit is harder to develop but easier to live with,” said Rani Whitfield, MD, a Baton Rouge, La., family practitioner and American Heart Association volunteer.
He says you have to be patient because it takes 60 to 90 days to create a new habit. “You have to keep after it. If you forget sometimes, or if at first you don’t figure how to make it work with your schedule, keep after it. It helps to remember that an unhealthy habit is attractive because it gives instant gratification — that immediate “feel good,” he says.
His top tips include breaking a larger goal into several short term goals, telling someone you trust for constant accountability, allowing a “cheat” once in a while (like a piece of apple pie), and breaking the television habit in favor of exercise.
There are many factors to go into a heart healthy lifestyle, but when broken down to each piece they are manageable and will make for a better you.
June 20, 2017
Janet O’Dell, RN