Did you know that heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States? There are many risk factors for developing heart disease. Some risks are uncontrollable, such as family history, old age, and race (African Americans, American Indians, and Mexican Americans are at greater risk). However, the good news is that majority of the risks can be controlled by following a heart healthy lifestyle.
In honor of Heart Health month, here a few tips to help get you started on a heart healthy lifestyle and give your heart the T.L.C. it deserves.
Heart Healthy Lifestyle Tips
1. Follow a heart healthy diet
Diet plays a major role in the prevention of most chronic conditions. A heart healthy diet consists of naturally high fiber and low sodium foods such as fresh fruits and vegetables and whole grains (like oats, whole wheat, barley, quinoa, and farro). It also includes lean protein sources such as beans, legumes, nuts, wild fish, eggs, and chicken, as well as some low fat dairy products (we suggest organic for dairy and poultry when possible). Healthy fats (like olive oil, avocado, nuts, flax oil) are also part of a heart healthy diet, but trans and saturated fats (like margarine, lard, fried food, packaged and processed foods) should be avoided. For more information on a heart healthy diet, see our 3 Easy Tips for Heart Healthy Eating.
2. Maintain a healthy weight.
Being overweight or obese puts you at risk for a number of health complications, including high cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease, and stroke. Calculating your Body Mass Index (BMI) – a measurement of body fat based on your height and weight – can help you to figure out if you are in the healthy weight range (18.5-24.9 kg/m^2). If you are overweight or obese, just a 5-10% weight loss can have dramatic effects on reducing your overall heart disease risk!
3. Get moving.
Daily physical activity has been linked to overall reductions in cholesterol levels and blood pressure, and helps to keep your weight in the healthy range. The American College of Sports Medicine recommends just 30 minutes of activity for at least 5 days a week.
You don’t have to join an expensive gym to get exercise. Find activities that are appealing to you! Go for a walk or run outside, practice yoga, go for a bike ride, take the stairs instead of the elevator, or try swimming or skiing (weather permitting, of course). Or make it a family event and have fun going for a hike, playing a sports game outside or Frisbee in the park.
4. Reduce stress levels.
We live in a stressful society. Whether it’s our jobs, relationships, traffic jams – there’s always something stressing us out. Stress can wreck havoc on a number of body organs and systems, especially the heart. It throws our hormones out of wack, increases inflammation, and can cause many of us to participate in harmful coping mechanisms such as overeating, drinking, and smoking. Try these relaxing stress-reducers:
- Practice yoga
- Get a relaxing massage
- Take a bubble bath
- Use lavender aromatherapy – try linen spray or lighting a candle
5. Don’t smoke. Period.
This may be the single, most important thing you can do to prevent not only heart disease, but many other serious health conditions such as cancer and lung disease. If you smoke, start taking the proper actions to quit, and seek help from a medical professional if needed.
6. Know your numbers.
Having high blood pressure and cholesterol levels can be serious risks for developing heart disease. Most of the time there are no symptoms. If you don’t already know your numbers, be sure to see your doctor to have these numbers checked and monitored on a regular basis. For optimal heart health, aim for the following values:
- Blood pressure goal: 120/80 mmHg
- Cholesterol goals:
- Total – less than 200 mg/dl
- LDL (“bad” cholesterol) – less than 100 mg/dl
- HDL (“good” cholesterol) – greater than 60 mg/dl