How good is your heart health?
Just this week, a study found that fewer of us are maintaining a heart-healthy lifestyle. Participants in the study failed to keep their blood pressure and cholesterol to in check and maintain a healthy weight. These factors increase the risk for heart disease, underscoring the importance of what the American Heart Association identifies as life's simple 7.
Let's get started.
Manage blood pressure – Key to keeping your heart healthy, your blood pressure should be in check. High blood pressure can lead to a hypertensive heart, the number one cause of death linked high blood pressure (bp). Hypertension refer's to a group of disorders that includes heart failure, ischemic heart disease, hypertensive heart disease and thickening of the heart muscle (ventricular hypertrophy).
What you can do – The good news is, high blood pressure is manageable! Even even with risk factors such as gender, race or age, there are things you can do to lower your risk or control it. Lifestyle modifications are essential to managing your bp. Eating more healthful, plant-based diet is strongly associated with lower blood pressure. So much so that researches at the National Institutes of Health, the NIH, recommends adopting such a diet to lower and control hypertension and blood pressure. Some foods known to lower blood pressure are:
- Cold water fish like salmon
- Whole grains
You want to avoid or limit foods high in salt.
- Pickles require salt to aid preservation. Sadly, this turns the cucumber in a salt sponge; the longer it sits in the the brine, the more salt it picks up.
- Canned soups can be high in salt. Look for the reduced sodium variety
- Canned/ bottled tomato products are problematic for people with hypertension. These tomato products are high in sodium which can spike your blood pressure.
- You already know that sugar and sugary foods are linked to weight gain. It however presents another threat: increase in blood pressure.
Control your cholesterol – Normally, the liver makes all the cholesterol that the body needs. Cholesterol helps your body build new cells, insulate nerves and produce hormones. However the food we eat also contains cholesterol. Too much of it and it increases your risk for heart disease. Excess cholesterol in the bloodstream builds up in the walls of your arteries. This is called atherosclerosis, a risk factor for cardiovascular and blood vessel dysfunction or stroke. When this happens, the artery walls become narrow, reducing blood flow to heart muscle. This blockage can result in a heart attack. The main source of artery clogging plaque is LDL "bad" cholesterol. HDL is the good kind that actually works to clear cholesterol from the bloodstream.
What you can do –It's recommended that everyone over 20 years of age should get their cholesterol checked at least once every 5 years. This test is called a lipoprotein profile and tests for very-low-density lipoprotein (VLDL), LDL, HDL, and chylomicrons. If you're already eating foods like oats, salmon and other fatty fish, nuts, tea, beans, avocado (hello guacamole!) or spinach keep up the good work! Not only are you helping lower your cholesterol, you're maintaining healthy fat intake, among other important nutrients, vital to your body. These foods are a great source of heart-healthy monounsaturated fat, a type of fat that may help lower LDL while at the same time raise your good cholesterol (HDL).
Reduce blood sugar – Anyone with above normal sugar levels has an increased risk of developing diabetes later in life. High blood-sugar levels can identify patients with heart failure who may have higher risk of developing pre-diabetes and diabetes, hospitalization or early death. The strong link between diabetes, stroke and heart disease is now well established. Research has shown that individuals with high cholesterol and high triglycerides, are hypertensive and lead sedentary lifestyles are more likely to develop symptoms associated with heart disease and even stroke.
What you can do –Taking these heart-healthy steps will help reduce risk for heart disease or stroke. It's a good idea to talk to your doctor about what blood sugar levels are appropriate for you.
Lose weight – Obesity is a public health concern in the United States. Currently in the US, one in every three Americans are obese. An even dire statistic comes from a recent study that found increased signs of heart disease in obese children as young as 8. According to U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), obesity among 6 to 12-year-olds in the United States has more than doubled over the last three decades and quadrupled among teens.
What you can do – Get moving. Physical activity, whether it comes in form of a daily weekly exercise schedule or while you run errands, is good for your heart. The American Heart Association recommends 30 mins of moderate physical activity daily, 5 days a week. Apart from reducing risk factors for heart disease, physical activity improves mental function, prolongs your optimal health, prevent bone loss, help manage stress, boosts energy levels, improve blood circulation and also improves cholesterol levels, among other things. For a list of exercise activities, tips and tricks click here.
Stop Smoking – If you quit smoking, you'll significantly cut your risk for developing coronary heart disease (CHD). Smoking increases risk for atherosclerosis and is also the main cause of the majority of cases of coronary thrombosis in people aged 5o or younger. Smoking stresses your heart by raising your blood pressure. Over time, this stress weakens the heart, reducing it's ability to pump blood to other parts around your body. Another ill-effect is that smoking makes your blood thick and sticky. Because your blood is sticky, this means your heart has to work harder to pump blood to vital organs. The amount of cholesterol and other unhealthy fats accumulate in your blood, causing fatty deposits. These fatty deposits eventually constrict the blood vessels and can cause heart attack or stroke.
What you can do – Quitting can be hard. Research shows that you're about four more times likely to reach your goal of quitting if you have a support group together with aids like patches or gum. By making healthy lifestyle choices, you'll decrease your risk for heart damage, lower your cholesterol, thin your blood and boost your immunity, among other things. Ask your doctor or download quitSTART app, available on iPhone and Android.
Eat right for your heart – A healthful diet benefits your mind, body and soul. Eating healthy foods will help you manage current health conditions, such as high cholesterol, blood pressure and blood sugar. It can also help prevent future health problems.
What you can do – Moving to a heart healthy diet is more than just about eating right. Here are a few things you can do:
- Portion Control - Overloading your plate, taking seconds and eating till you are stuffed loads you up with more calories than the daily recommendation. Normally, we tend to only eat around 95 percent of what's on our plate. tInstead use a small plate and mindfully add larger portions of foods low in calories, nutrient rich such vegetables, fruits. These will healthful foods will help you on your way to reducing your waistline, improve your cholesterol and triglycerides.
- Add more whole grains foods to your diet. These foods are rich in fiber which research shows helps heart health in some ways.
Get active – Physical activity is important for preventing heart disease and stroke. Improving your overall cardiovascular health works to lower your blood pressure and cholesterol. The recommendations in the medical community is that you should get at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobics a minimum of 5 days a week.
What you can do – If you're just setting out, 30 minutes everyday can seem daunting, but everyone has to start somewhere. We can often get bogged down by an all-or-nothing attitude. Start small. Have a schedule and build up from there. You can also get creative with it and get in some exercise, even in the winter! If you take public transportation, get off a stop earlier and walk the rest of the way.
Good sleep hygiene and rest – Of all the good reasons to get a good nights sleep, protecting your heart health might not immediately be at the top of your mind. It ought to be. Over the last 50 years, our sleep duration has reduced by about 1.5 to 2 hours per night for every person. Researcher Dr. Chan-Won Kim: "It's important to get good quality sleep...it's much easier to prevent disease than treat disease." Sleep problems consistently are linked to raised risk for development of heart disease and other diseases related to the blood vessels such as inflammation and hormone imbalances.
What you can do – Rest. Just as one would take care to eat right, exercise or quit smoking, practice good sleep hygiene. Sleep needs vary from person to person; some people feel rested with 6 hours of sleep while others wake up refreshed after 7 hours of sleep. Our bodies give us plenty of cues when we are tired. Sadly, this fast paced lifestyle some of us live leaves is numb to these signals, making us oblivious to these cues. But you can hit reset and erase your sleep debt. Many things can interfere with your internal body clock (circadian rhythm). The term circadian stems from Latin words 'circa'(around) and 'dies' (day), literally, around the day. For more tips on sleep hygiene read this: Healthy Sleeping Habits.
Though managing your heart health can be challenging, following the steps in life's simple 7, will greatly benefit your overall health. Healthy eating is the cornerstone of healthy living – regardless of your age, race or gender. Managing factors that affect your health requires awareness of what factors affect it and steps you can use to promote not just heart health but your overall wellness. Disturbances to your internal clock include:
- Shift work
- Time zone changes for the jet-setter in you
- Apneas (DSPS, ASPD)
- Changes in routine
- Mental health problems such as Parkinson or Alzheimer's disease
Always check with your doctor for more personalized answers to your health needs and also to find out if a certain activity is safe to perform.
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