You owe a lot to your heart. It’s been with you since day one and has delivered the nutrients and oxygen you need to keep going. Yet heart disease is still the leading cause of death for men and women in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
It’s time to change the statistics and start giving back to our hearts! Below are three heart-healthy tips to ensure your ticker keeps beating for years to come.
Ditch the poor diet
Reshaping your diet can help you improve your cholesterol, regulate blood pressure and manage your weight, all of which benefit your heart:
• Limit saturated fats. This type of “solid” fat can raise your levels of LDL, or “bad” cholesterol, increasing your blood pressure and raising your risk for heart disease. Foods such as beef, pork, processed meats, and dairy products including butter, cream, and cheese are high in saturated fats.
• Choose unsaturated fats. The two types of “soft” fats are monounsaturated and polyunsaturated and can be found in olive and vegetable oils, avocado, nuts, soybean, and fish, such as salmon and trout. Chicken and turkey are lower in saturated fat, but should be eaten in moderate portions (3-6 ounces per day).
• Eat more fruits and veggies. A diet rich in fruits and vegetables can give your body the vitamins, minerals and fiber required for managing cholesterol and blood pressure—with few calories and little fat. Go for melons, bananas, carrots, broccoli, and dark leafy greens, such as spinach and kale.
Always limit salty foods, as high sodium can increase your blood pressure. Read food package labels! The American Heart Association recommends no more than 2,300 mg of sodium per day.
Keep checkups in check
Certain medical conditions can lead to other ailments if not properly managed. According to the National Institutes of Health, conditions such as diabetes, obesity, metabolic syndrome and sleep apnea can increase your risk for heart attack and heart disease.
If you have a medical condition, get regular checkups and take medications as prescribed. Talk to your doctor about how your condition might affect your heart and how you can reduce your risk for future heart-related problems.
Learn to relax
Relaxation is central to cardiac health. Managing your stress can help regulate your body’s stress-response system, which is responsible for the release of cortisol, the stress hormone, as well as adrenaline. Your stress-response system kicks in at times of perceived danger, which gives you the energy boost to “fight" or "flee.”
This is great when there is a lion in the room. But in normal life situations—where the only “lion” might be a demanding boss or nagging relative—heavy doses of cortisol and adrenaline can take a toll on your heart.
Find ways to manage your stress. Identify life stressors while fostering an “accept-then-act” mindset. Take steps to change what you can, and then surrender to what you can’t. Stay positive!
You can also try stress-relieving activities, such as light aerobics, yoga, dance, mindfulness meditation, massage therapy, walking, and simple exercises like conscious breathing and stretching. If your stress is overwhelming, consult your physician about professional treatment.
Your heart works hard for you. It's time to meet it halfway by making wiser lifestyle choices for this month and beyond.