Top 7 ways to improve your heart health in the New Year
The recent deaths of Florence Henderson and George Michael from (suspected) heart failure, Alan Thicke of an aortic rupture and Carrie Fisher from a heart attack, are reminders of how important our heart health is. While our hearts are not meant to last forever, and some heart conditions are out of our control, there are steps you can take to help your heart last longer, so you can live longer.
Dr. Marlon Everett, an interventional cardiologist with the Advocate Heart Institute at Trinity Hospital in Chicago; South Suburban Hospital in Hazel Crest and Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn, recommends these seven habits to help your overall heart health in the new year.
- Build more activity into your daily life. You don’t have to go to the gym to get exercise; instead, change your habits to incorporate activity throughout the day. Take the stairs instead of the elevator, ride your bicycle or walk to the store, mow your yard or shovel your driveway and play with your children or grandchildren. You may find using a pedometer or a Fitbit will keep you on track towards the goal of 10,000 steps daily.
In addition, include some weight bearing exercises, like push-ups and squats, to maintain or build muscle, which decreases with age.
- Prioritize sleep. Studies link lack of sleep to an increased risk of heart-damaging conditions like stroke, heart disease, diabetes and obesity. Aim for 7-8 hours each night.
- Eat healthier. A diet high in fruits and vegetables and low in animal-based fats is good for your heart and can help to prevent numerous heart health issues, including Type 2 diabetes, obesity and stroke. Fish and chicken are good primary sources of animal protein, but limit red meat to once or twice a month. However, the closer you can get to a plant-based diet, the better.
- Watch your weight. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends adults get a minimum of 2 hours and 30 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise, plus two muscle-strengthening sessions every week, to assist in weight maintenance and overall health.
If you need to lose weight, gradual weight loss is found to be most effective, which is about 1-2 pounds a week. Even losing a modest 5-10 percent of your total body weight can improve blood pressure and blood sugars and can help decrease risk factors for obesity-related chronic diseases, which often affect the heart.
- See your physician for a routine physical. By getting regular preventive screenings, you and your physician(s) can get a handle on medical conditions while in the early stages. Talk to your doctors about what screenings he or she recommends for you.
- Quit smoking. It’s vital for your heart health and for the health of your children and loved ones. Smoking makes your heart work harder by increasing your heart rate, tightening your major arteries and causing irregular heart rhythm. It can damage both the structure and function of your heart and blood vessels, as well as raise your blood pressure, which increases your risk of stroke. Talk to your doctor about methods and medications that can help you quit.
- Reduce stress. Exercise, eat well and make time for family and friends to help keep your mind at ease. These can all help to relieve stress and keep you healthier. Life brings constant change, much of which is out of your control. However, if you take control of your health, which you absolutely can affect, you will be more in control of your stress.
About the Author
Kate Eller was a regional director of public affairs and marketing operations for Advocate Health Care. She enjoys road trips, dogs, minimalism, yoga, hiking, and “urban hiking.”