It’s easy to forget about your heart health when you’re on the go! In the daily grind of studying for that big exam, dropping the kids off at day care or rushing to get to that meeting, we often take the health of our hearts for granted. Show your heart some extra TLC today! The American Heart Association featured an article titled “The Simple 7” that outlines seven ways to improve your heart health.
1. Get Active—Thirty minutes a day of moderate physical activity, five days a week, will lead to feeling better and living longer. Fortunately, it doesn’t have to be all at once. Make time for walking in your day. Park in the far end of the parking lot or take the stairs. Take short walks during the workday. Plan a walk with a special person or canine companions when you get home from school or the office, before you get tied up with making dinner or cracking open the books.
2. Control your Cholesterol—Check your cholesterol regularly. If your total cholesterol is higher than 200mg/dL, interventions are needed. Increasing your activity decreases the bad cholesterol (LDL) and increases good cholesterol (HDL) levels. At least twice per week, include foods in your diet that can lower your cholesterol, such as oats and other high fiber foods, whole grains, beans, nuts, soy, and fish such as tuna, salmon and halibut. Olive oil can reduce harmful cholesterol, so try to substitute olive oil for other fats in your diet.
3. Eat better—A healthy diet is one of your best weapons in the war against heart disease. Keep a journal for yourself of what you are eating and drinking. Stock your kitchen with healthy foods and leave the junk food at the store. There are many ways to add flavor with spices and seasonings. Mrs. Dash is a favorite of dieticians. Cut back on salt and added sugars. Eat fish twice a week. Include fruits and vegetable in a variety of colors in your diet every day. Increase your fiber intake with whole grains. Cut back on saturated and trans fats. Don’t forget to drink plenty of water.
4. Manage blood pressure—High blood pressure, known as the “silent killer,” is the biggest risk factor for heart disease. Normal blood pressure is less than 120/80. You can help lower your blood pressure by eating a heart-healthy, low-salt diet, getting regular exercise, maintaining a healthy weight and decreasing stress. Positive self-talk and relaxation techniques such as yoga, tai chi or meditation can greatly reduce stress. Breaking big problems into smaller parts can also help to reduce the feeling of added pressure and stress. In a pinch, take some deep breaths and count to ten before speaking.
5. Maintain a healthy weight—Extra weight leads to high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes. Do you know what your calorie needs are compared to how much you’re taking in? There are several online resources for determining your caloric needs for weight maintenance and weight loss according to age and gender. Track your calorie intake to find out where you are. Write everything down, and you may be surprised where all those extra calories are coming from!
6. Reduce blood sugar—Diabetes is one of the biggest controllable risk factors for heart disease. Obesity can lead to insulin resistance and high blood sugar. Keeping your blood sugar within normal limits is crucial to reducing the damage caused by diabetes. To help lower your blood sugar, avoid intake of simple sugars found in soda, candy and desserts. Keep close track of your overall carbohydrate intake. Work closely with your healthcare providers to optimize your diabetes management.
7. Stop smoking—Quitting can be tough, but fortunately there are many effective methods. Whether it’s slowly, quickly or cold-turkey, do whatever it takes to stop. Identify “triggers” or habits that give you the urge to smoke. Physical urges should subside after 1-2 weeks but mental urges may be ongoing. Think about how you will cope with these urges and how you will retrain yourself. Most importantly, get some help. You don’t have to do this alone. For more information and resources, visit http://www.lungusa.org/stop-smoking/.
Find out where you stand by taking the American Heart Association’s “My Life Check” Assessment at http://mylifecheck.heart.org.
About the Author: Jennifer Overturf is the director of the BSN program at Grand Canyon University through AT Still University.