Happy Valentine's Day, everyone! Many people will spend a fortune today on the people we care about. We buy jewelry cards, flowers, and candy. While all of that is thoughtful and nice, the best gift we can give to our loved ones is the gift of a healthy heart.
In my last blog post, I talked about the difference between modifiable versus non-modifiable risk factors of developing heart disease. The non-modifiable ones we cannot change, such as age, gender, and family history. Today, I focus on the modifiable risk factors, the ones that CAN be changed.
Stick to a healthy diet: Foods that are low in salt, fat, and cholesterol are great choices to help prevent heart disease. Too much sodium and fat raises your blood pressure, putting you at risk for heart disease and possibly a heart attack. Strive to limit your salt intake to 1500 mg a day by reading food labels and avoiding processed foods such as bacon and luncheon meats. Learn to cook with herbs rather than salt. Are you uncertain how to incorporate herbs into your dishes? Here is a great resource from the American Heart Association to get you get started:
http://tinyurl.com/a5tch3f Concentrate on a diet that consists of fresh fruits and vegetables, lean protein such as fish and chicken, beans, and whole grains. I will teach you how to correctly read a food label in my next blog post.
(2) Exercise regularly: I know, the mere mention of the "e" word is enough to make us cringe! I am not fond of the word myself and much prefer the word "activity." If you get as bored as I do with the same routine, mix it up a bit. For instance, one day a week I will play racquetball, and take a Zumba class on another day. Identify what you like to do to be "active." It could mean signing up for dance lessons, or joining a biking club. By the way, inviting others to join you is a great way to stay on track! If you have been leading an inactive lifestyle, first and foremost, ALWAYS CHECK WITH YOUR DOCTOR BEFORE BEGINNING ANY EXERCISE PROGRAM. Always start out slowly, adding in more days per week, or a longer duration. According to the American Heart Association, the recommendation is 30 minutes a day, 5 days per week. Does this sound unrealistic to you? I will let you in on a little secret: Activities such as house/yard work count!
(3) Do not smoke: The nicotine found in tobacco products is responsible for raising your blood pressure when you smoke and for up to an hour afterwards. Similarly, secondhand smoke raises your blood pressure, which ultimately affects your heart. Smoking can narrow your arteries, which can potentially cause a heart attack (Source: Mayo Clinic). Working with your doctor and a support group are positive steps to help you quit smoking.
(4) Limit alcohol use: Drinking small amounts of alcohol, especiall red wine, MAY help lower your blood pressure. Be careful, though, because alcohol in larger amounts raises blood pressure. Worse yet, if you take medication for high blood pressure, large amlounts of alcohol can reduce the effects of the medication. Men and women over the age of 65 should limit themselves to one drink per day. What is considered a serving size? Generally, a serving size is 12 oz. of beer, 5 oz. of wine, and 1.5 oz. of 80-proof liquor (Source: Mayo Clinic). If you are accustomed to drinking in larger amounts, cut back slowly. Enlist the aid of friends, family, and your doctor to help you. Support groups are also a good source to keep you on track!
(5) Manage your stress: This topic deserves an entire blog of its own, so watch for that in the coming weeks. In the meantime, know that unmanaged stress raises blood pressure, putting the heart at great risk of developing heart disease. A distinguished colleague of mine, Dr. Raeleen Mautner, has some wonderful techniques for de-stressing. Read her blogs on de-stressing at http://raeleenmautner.com/category/stress-less/
Bear in mind that in many cases, the behaviors that are putting you at risk for heart disease most likely have been a way of life for many years. You may be thinking that these are impossible to change. It will take time, patience, and effort, but it IS doable! If I can help you make some of the first steps to a healthier lifestyle, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Help is just a click away!