Happy Valentine’s Day! Heart shapes seem to abound in the month of February in the form of cards, gifts and of course candy! We think a little more about the ones we love and how we can show our affection.
While we’re focusing on hearts, why don’t we look a little more closely at our own – heart, that is? I’m not talking about the state of your love life – or lack of one – but rather the state of your physical heart. Are you treating it as well as you should be? Is keeping it healthy a priority for you? Do you have any idea how to do that?
Let’s face it. Keeping your heart healthy is the kindest thing you can do for the ones you love. We can do very little for others if we’re not healthy ourselves. It’s easy to take our health for granted, and for many of us, we probably only think of our health when we become ill or injured. After recovery, it is right back to our normal ways. But as we age, those days of guaranteed health lessen. All of a sudden we become faced with conditions such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, aching joints, etc. that make us realize we’re not invincible after all. We may want to start paying attention!
A healthy heart is probably the most important goal we should have, as heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women. Ask anyone who has suffered a heart attack or stroke if their life and lifestyle were not irreparably changed, and then think about what that same thing might do to you. Do you want those consequences, or do you want to be proactive and do all you can to prevent them?
The Mayo Clinic has published five strategies to help you do just that. Let’s look at each one and see how you can incorporate those strategies into your life.
DON’T SMOKE OR USE TOBACCO PRODUCTS
According to Sharonne Hayes, M.D. – a cardiologist at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN – “quitting smoking is the most powerful, preventable risk factor for heart disease.” Nicotine in cigarette smoke constricts blood vessels and increases heart rate and blood pressure. The heart has to work harder to supply enough oxygen to your blood.
When you quit smoking, no matter how long you’ve smoked, your risk of heart disease drops dramatically within just the first year. It’s worth the effort.
GET SOME EXERCISE
Again – no new news here. But you might be surprised at how beneficial regular physical activity can be.
Physical activity increases blood flow to your heart and strengthens your heart’s contractions so that your heart works more efficiently with less effort. And adding exercise to your day helps with weight control, which will reduce your chances of getting conditions which can strain your heart, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes. Stress, also, is reduced by regular physical activity.
So how much do you need?
The American Heart Association recommendation is at least 30 minutes a day of aerobic exercise to maintain your current weight and up to 60 minutes a day to lose weight, almost every day. Not quite up to that? Just start slowly and work up to that level. Does it have to be all at one time? No! Little bouts of activity throughout the day can be just as effective. Take the stairs, walk the dog, mow your own lawn, walk 18 holes for a change. Your body will thank you!
In addition, a recent study by the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, Oct. 2010, reported that strength training, too, is beneficial for the heart. They found that lifting weights has a unique effect on blood pressure and blood flow to the limbs. It lowers blood pressure for up to 40 minutes after exercise and increases blood flow to the active muscles in the limbs. So, in addition to aerobic exercise, strive for two days a week of strength training. And the older you are, the more important this becomes!
EAT A HEART-HEALTHY DIET
As I’ve pointed out in previous articles, a diet based heavily on fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low fat dairy products and fish will help protect your heart. Limit your consumption of red meats and higher fat items such as cheese.
Proponents of the Mediterranean Diet say alcohol in moderation may also help reduce heart disease risk. Moderation, however, means no more than 1 glass of wine or other alcohol for women and no more than 2 for men. So, make it a habit to have a glass of water right next to your wine – it makes moderation much easier to follow!
MAINTAIN A HEALTHY WEIGHT
Unfortunately, most of the weight gained in adulthood is fatty tissue, which can lead to conditions that increase your chances of heart disease. And if you tend to carry your extra weight around your middle rather than in your hips, this visceral fat affects the workings of your internal organs, mainly your heart. So, it’s not only unattractive, it’s dangerous.
Eating for many of us has become an obsession. We eat when we’re happy, sad, celebrating, depressed – any excuse! Obese individuals tend to greatly underestimate how much they eat. One way to really come to grips with what and how much you’re eating is to keep a food journal. If you’re truly honest and actually write everything down, you might be surprised at what is entering your mouth on a daily basis!
Choose the right foods and be aware of your portions.
GET REGULAR HEALTH SCREENINGS
Two of the most common “secret killers” are high blood pressure and high cholesterol because there are often no symptoms. Have your doctor check them on a regular basis. Many times they can be lowered and controlled by proper diet and exercise. However, if you need to add medication, the side affects are minimal and the benefits substantial.
A heart-healthy lifestyle doesn’t have to be complicated. Make small changes to your routine, and watch your health and life improve!
CHANGE YOUR HABITS, AND CHANGE YOUR LIFE!