Whether you’re recovering from surgery or just interested in achieving a healthier lifestyle — or perhaps struggling to commit to your New Year’s resolution — there are many reasons to work on improving your cardiovascular health. In recognition of American Heart Month, let’s take a look at some basic heart health tips that you can put into action today to start achieving your healthiest you.
According to the CDC, heart disease is America’s leading cause of death, resulting in more than 600,000 fatalities per year — that’s one in every four deaths in the United States. On top of its toll in human life, heart disease also costs the country about $200 billion annually in medical costs, medications, and lost productivity.
One of the things that makes heart disease so daunting is its connection with many common day-to-day habits. Primary risk factors include high blood pressure, high LDL cholesterol, and smoking; diabetes, obesity, poor diet, lack of exercise, and excessive alcohol consumption are other factors.
Now, here’s some good news: Heart disease and its risk factors can be prevented. Read on for some helpful heart health tips that will not only help put your heart first, but may also help you keep those elusive New Year’s resolutions.
Heart Health Tip #1: Make an Appointment with Your Doctor.
Heart disease doesn’t happen overnight; rather, it builds over time. So, identifying signs at an early stage could very well be a life saver. Regular check-ups are essential for tracking your heart health and recognizing early symptoms.
Also, if heart disease runs in your family, or you have one or more of the risk factors listed above, you can work with your doctor to create a specific plan to reduce your risk. Your doctor is an excellent resource to help you maintain your heart health.
Heart Health Tip #2: Make Some Moves!
Regular exercise is essential for maintaining not only a healthy heart, but also a healthy you. If exercise seems intimidating, or you’re not quite sure how you can possibly fit one more thing into your busy schedule — relax. You don’t have to be a championship athlete to reap the benefits of exercise. Your body just wants to move.
So, how much exercise should you get? At a minimum, the American Heart Association (AHA) recommends 30 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise five days per week, or 25 minutes of vigorous aerobic exercise three days per week. “You will also experience benefits even if you divide your time into two or three segments of 10 to 15 minutes per day,” the AHA advises.
The key word is “moderate.” Walking is a wonderful way to meet this guideline. It can be done almost anywhere, requires no equipment — and, best of all, it’s FREE! If you’re short on time, studies have shown that you can break your 30-minute requirement into two 15-minute sessions, or even three 10-minute sessions. This means you can take a short walk in the morning, and another walk at lunch and/or in the evening. The goal is to exercise your heart by increasing your heart rate.
Additionally, the AHA recommends incorporating two days of muscle-strengthening activity. This will help you maintain your overall strength on a day-to-day basis, and will help keep you independent as you age.
Remember: Before you start any exercise program, be sure to check with your doctor to make sure that you’re engaging in a program that’s right for your specific health situation.
Heart Health Tip #3: Balance Your Diet.
You may have heard the famous phrase by Hippocrates, “Let food be thy medicine, and medicine be thy food.” He was certainly on to something! What you consume has a direct effect on your body. We all know this in theory, but how many of us actually put this knowledge into practice?
To put heart health first, you should prioritize a well-balanced diet that’s filled with fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and lean meats. Many assume that healthy means bland, but that’s not the case. For ideas on how you can make flavorful, heart healthy meals at home, check out this rundown of simple recipes from the AHA.
Finally, here are a few other heart health tips to help maintain your cardiovascular wellbeing:
- Take any and all medications as prescribed by your doctor.
- Cut down on the amount of alcohol you drink.
- If you’re a smoker, take steps to quit.
If incorporating these heart health tips seems overwhelming, then focus on starting small. Pick one to start with, then be consistent with following through with it. Small changes over time reap the biggest outcome. Also, don’t be afraid to ask your friends and family for help. Not only will you benefit from their support, but they’ll also benefit by also becoming more aware of heart health, and perhaps adopting healthier habits along with you.
Remember, putting your heart health first is more than just a New Year’s resolution — it’s a lifetime commitment to a healthier you.