Did you know that one death occurs every 38 seconds in America due to cardiovascular disease?
February is American Heart Month, which is designed to increase awareness about cardiovascular disease – the leading global cause of death with more than 19.9 million deaths each year. Cardiovascular disease, or heart and blood vessel disease, can also lead to heart attacks as well as strokes.
In honor of American Heart Month, today’s blog features a discussion about the six keys to heart healthy living. So, let’s get started:
1) Eat heart healthy foods.
A balanced diet filled with heart healthy foods and regular exercise are equally important components to achieving and maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Tweet This! Let’s review a quick list of foods deemed heart healthy.
- Consuming foods that are high in omega-3 fatty acids, such as fatty fish, can help promote cardiovascular health.
- Research studies have shown that omega-3 fatty acids as part of a healthy diet can help decrease triglyceride levels, aid in the reduction of atherosclerotic plaques and may help lower blood pressure.
- Salmon, lake trout, mackerel, herring, sardines and tuna are all good sources of protein and low in saturated fat.
Tree and ground nuts.
- Considered one of nature’s top foods to promote heart health, due to their strong nutritional profile including unsaturated fats, omega-3 fatty acids, Vitamin E, fiber and plant sterols.
- Foods that are high in fiber and plant sterols (i.e. tree nuts and legumes) may help lower blood cholesterol levels and thereby the risk of heart disease.
- Walnuts are considered to be the number one heart healthy nut. Other nuts containing heart-healthy nutrients include almonds, macadamia nuts, hazelnuts and pecans. Tweet This!
- Berries contain antioxidants, polyphenols, fiber, Vitamin C and manganese, which specifically help in your body’s natural reduction of free radical levels.
- Raspberries, blueberries, blackberries, strawberries and acai berries are small, but mighty, in the realm of heart health. Tweet This!
Coarse or steel-cut oatmeal.
- Oatmeal is a good source of fiber, omega-3 fatty acids, folate and potassium.
- Oatmeal is also high in soluble fiber, which aids in reduction of the absorption of dietary cholesterol into the blood stream.
2) Maintain an active lifestyle.
According to the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion (ODPHP), physical activity is the key to improving the health of our nation. Studies have shown that incorporating consistent physical activity into your weekly routine can help prevent the development of heart disease and stroke. Tweet This! The agency’s publication, Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, suggests adults participate in two types of activity – aerobic and muscle strengthening.
Aerobic activity causes an increase in heart rate and is also referred to as endurance or cardio activity. A brisk walk, water aerobics, ballroom dancing or gardening are all examples of moderate activity, while vigorous intensity includes activities such as running, jogging, jumping rope, swimming laps or hiking uphill.
Aerobic activity has three major components:
- Intensity – how hard a person works to do a given activity.
- Frequency – how often a person does aerobic activity.
- Duration – the length of time a person spends doing an activity in one session.
Muscle-strengthening activity causes your body’s muscles to work or hold against an applied force or weight, such as weight lifting or resistance training. It is important to target all major muscle groups of the body – legs, hips, back, abdomen, chest, shoulders and arms.
Muscle strengthening has three major elements:
- Intensity – the difference between how much force is used compared to how much a person is able to lift.
- Frequency – how often a person does muscle strengthening activity.
- Repetition – how many times a person lifts a weight.
Even some physical activity is better than none at all. Tweet This!
The potential health benefits of participating in regular physical activity include a lower risk of premature death, coronary heart disease, stroke, hypertension, type 2 diabetes and depression.
The average adult should engage in the following amount of physical activity:
- 150 minutes (2 hours and 30 minutes) per week of moderate-intensity exercise; 75 minutes (1 hour and 15 minutes) per week of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity; or a combination of moderate- and vigorous-intensity aerobic activity.
- Aerobic activity should executed in increments of ten or more minutes at a time, and spread out throughout the week.
- For extensive health benefits, adults should increase their aerobic activity to 300 minutes (5 hours) per week of moderate-intensity or 150 minute a week of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity or a combination of moderate- and vigorous-intensity aerobic activity.
- Incorporate muscle strengthening activities that are moderate or high intensity and involve all major muscle groups, on two or more days per week, in order to reap the health benefits.
3) Manage your stress levels.
At some point, everyone experiences some level of stress – it’s normal and just a part of being human. Not all stress is negative, but prolonged periods of stress may lead to serious health conditions like cardiovascular disease and obesity. Although stress is unavoidable, there are ways to help negate its effects and keep stress levels under control. The American Heart Association suggests the following tips to help manage stress levels:
- Positive self-talk. Negative self-talk increases stress. Negative self-talk sounds like, “I’m never going to make it.” Or, “I’m so stupid.” Positive self-talk can help you calm down and cope with feelings of stress. Examples of positive self-talk include, “I’ve got this.” Or, “I’m human – we all make mistakes. I can fix this.”
- Deep breaths. Deep breathing can help promote feelings of calmness, reduce blood pressure levels and potentially decrease overall stress levels.
- Meditation or prayer. Stress initiates the fight or flight response. Meditation may help structurally transform the brain and change its response to stress. Meditation can also help to increase mental strength and focus.
4) Stop smoking.
The American Heart Association reports that the most preventable cause of premature death in the United States is smoking. Cigarette smokers have a higher risk of developing atherosclerosis (the formation of fatty plaques in the arteries), several types of cancer, and lung disease. The health benefits start almost immediately after a person quits smoking and within a few years of quitting, the risk of stroke and coronary artery disease will actually be similar to that of a non-smoker’s.
5) Lose a little weight.
According to the newest guidelines released by the American Heart Association, weight loss is suggested as a strategy to prevent heart disease and stroke. Tweet This! A few of the best techniques for weight loss include eating fewer calories than your body needs, exercising more and changing unhealthy behaviors.
6) Control cholesterol and reduce blood sugar levels.
Occasionally, cholesterol gets a bad rap because it is associated with cardiovascular disease (when it is present in high levels). But, cholesterol actually plays a very important role in cell building.
There are two sources of cholesterol – the liver and the food you consume – specifically animal foods such as meats and (full-fat) dairy products.
When cholesterol levels are elevated, damage can be the result. As cholesterol circulates in the blood, blood levels increase, forming deposits of fatty plaques that lead to the narrowing and hardening of blood vessels, in a process called atherosclerosis. If blockage to an artery occurs, a heart attack or stroke may result.
By controlling your blood sugar, you can help reduce risk of developing diabetes and heart disease.
Blood glucose, commonly referred to as blood sugar, is the main source of fuel for your body. High blood glucose levels can lead to the development of diabetes. High blood sugar for a prolonged period of time may lead to damage to your eyes, kidneys, nerves and/or heart.
We hope the tips and strategies shared in this blog post will spark or strengthen a lifelong commitment to love yourself – and your body – the heart healthy way. After all, a healthy heart is a happy heart. ❤ Tweet This!