As you continue or renew the commitments and resolutions you set for the New Year, take time to acknowledge the importance of your heart and the critical role it plays in all aspects of your life. February is Heart Health Month and a perfect time to make sure you’re doing all that you can to support your heart.
Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States, effecting people of all ages and backgrounds. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC):
- About 600,000 people die of heart disease in the United States every year –that’s 1 in every 4 deaths.
- Heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women. In 2009, more than half of heart disease-related deaths were in men.
- Every year about 935,000 Americans suffer a heart attack. Of these, 610,000 are first time heart attacks and 325,000 are repeat heart attacks.
- Coronary heart disease alone costs the United States $108.9 billion each year. This total includes the cost of health care services, medications, and lost productivity.
Take care of your heart and your heart will take care of you. Study after study shows that in order to have a strong heart, you need to lead a healthy lifestyle, which includes eating real food, being active, reducing stress, and fostering healthy relationships. Incorporate these basic tips into your life and embrace your heart:
Avoid or Stop smoking
- Smoking reduces life expectancy by 15-25 years. If you are a smoker, you are twice more likely to suffer a heart attack than a non-smoker. The moment you stop smoking, your risk of heart attack begins to reduce.
- No matter how long you’ve been a smoker, it’s never too late to stop. Even if you’re not a smoker, secondhand smoke can also increase your risk of heart disease, so it’s best to stay away from places where others are smoking.
- Besides being a leading cause of various cancers (throat, mouth and pancreatic to name a few), smoking leads to a higher buildup of fat and plaque in arteries and generally lower HDL (High Density Lipoprotein – good cholesterol), and higher blood pressure.
- If you are or were a smoker, you probably notice or recall getting out of breath quickly. It’s critical to be able to sustain aerobic activity to fire up your metabolism and get you on your way to good heart health.
Balance your diet
- There are plenty of diets out there, but stick to the basics. Eat a balanced diet including fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains (whole wheat, brown rice, Quinoa, etc.), quality proteins (meats, beans, legumes), good fats (olive oil, coconut oil, avocados) and drink plenty of water.
- Cook at home as often as possible. Only you can control what goes into your body. Save the dining out for special occasions or as a reward.
- Avoid trans fat and minimize saturated fats.
- Minimize salt intake.
- Eat foods high in omega-3 fatty acids, such as salmon, walnuts and flaxseed.
- Read the labels: if you can’t pronounce the ingredients or don’t know what they are, don’t buy it. Focus on eating REAL food.
- Eat it if it’s from a plant, not made in a plant.
- Reward yourself – indulge in an occasional treat as a reward for all your hard work.
Get and stay active
- Besides the heart benefits, keeping active also improves mental health, reduces stress levels, boosts energy levels, increases metabolism and promotes a general sense of well-being.
- Exercise for at least 30 minutes per day.
- From a medical perspective, regular exercise lowers LDL (Low Density Lipoprotein — bad cholesterol), lowers blood pressure, and reduces your risk of chronic diseases like obesity and Type 2 Diabetes.
- Check with your Healthcare Provider before starting any exercise program or routine. If you’ve never exercised before, start out slowly and gradually increase the duration and level of intensity. Finding an activity that you like doing is the most important part. Jogging, hiking, brisk walking, swimming, bicycling and yoga are all good places to start and build upon.
Manage your stress level
- Stress can lead you to engage in behaviors that aren’t heart-healthy, such as smoking, excessive drinking and overeating. Find other ways to cut back on your stress level.
- A few healthy ways to reduce stress:
- Accept that you can only control your actions, not the actions of others.
- Avoid stressful situations as much as possible.
- Find some kind of enjoyable exercise.
- Talk it out – get things that bother you off your chest.
- Make a little quiet time each day to meditate, journal, reflect, read, or enjoy some music.
- Do not hold back – laugh often and laugh loudly! As it turns out, laughter IS the best kind of medicine. Take the time to laugh – it is contagious!
Limit alcohol and caffeine intake
- Alcohol, in moderation, especially red wine, has been shown to have heart-healthy benefits. Excessive alcohol consumption, on the other hand, can actually raise your triglycerides (fat levels in the blood), as well as lead to conditions such as high blood pressure, heart failure and obesity.
- If you need caffeine, limit your caffeine intake to a few 8 oz. cups per day. Consider trying natural caffeine alternatives like Teeccino Herbal caffeine free coffee.
- Limit energy drink consumption.
Stay within a health weight range that you’re comfortable with
- Being overweight can be very hard on your heart. A bigger body needs an increased blood flow to accommodate the added fatty tissue, so your heart enlarges in order to compensate. This can lead to high blood pressure — a major cause of heart disease — or congestive heart failure (when the heart’s chambers give out due to overexertion). Studies show that the risk of heart failure increases over 30% if you’re overweight and over 100% if you’re obese.
Sleep, who needs it? Turns out, you do.
- Grab a pillow and make sleep a priority.
- In our high-paced, technology driven life, it’s no wonder most of us don’t get enough sleep. Studies show that chronic sleep deprivation negatively impacts our health and our heart. One theory is that a lack of sleep raises levels of a hormone called cortisol, which leads to inflammation and causes plaques to break apart and travel to the heart or brain which may lead to a stroke or heart attack.
Know your family history
- Besides all the things you can do to support your heart, genetics and family history also play a part in your overall health. That’s not to say that it drives or determines your health, but it does have some impact. For example, if a first-degree relative (such as a parent or sibling) had heart disease at an early age, your risk of developing heart disease may be increased.
Check In with your Healthcare Provider
- Common symptoms of heart disease include chest pain, nausea, dizziness, heart palpitations or shortness of breath. Most people, however, don’t know they have a heart disease until they have a heart attack. It’s very important to get regular exams, including checks of your blood pressure, cholesterol and triglyceride levels.
- If you or your Healthcare Provider is concerned that you may already have heart disease, you might need more diagnostic testing. One common test is an electrocardiogram, or EKG, to record your heart’s electrical activity to find out whether you have a normal heartbeat or any heart damage. They may administer the EKG while you are lying down, or when you are walking or running on a treadmill (known as a stress test).
Set the intention to take care of yourself and embrace your heart. Live life and enjoy your journey!
Vadim Starikov is a husband, father of two young children, a Health Coach and the Founder and Principal of YOU2.0, a program which helps clients create a personalized “roadmap to health” that suits their unique body, lifestyle, preferences and goals. After redefining his own health, he noticed how the changes he made had a positive ripple effect in every aspect of his life. Wanting to share this life changing process with others, he enrolled in the Institute for Integrative Nutrition where he is being trained in over one hundred dietary theories and a variety of practical lifestyle coaching methods to become a Certified Health Coach (CHC) and be part of the American Association of Drugless Practitioners (AADP). For more information about Vadim and You2.0, visit www.you2dot0.com.