Cardiovascular diseases are a leading cause of death in Americans. In Fact, a recent study shows that nearly half of American adults suffer from some type of cardiovascular disease. The good news? Not only are technologies and treatments getting better each day, but 80% of cardiovascular disease can be prevented. The key is a healthy lifestyle, particularly in the 3 areas described below.
1) Balanced Diet
Ever heard of the saying, ‘you are what you eat’? While you probably won’t turn into a ding dong because you ate a ding dong, the saying is applicable in terms of what you eat and the effects it has on your body. There is some speculation that heart diseases are so prevalent in America because of the average diet. There isn’t hard evidence to prove this theory, but some staples of the American diet such as refined/added sugars, saturated and trans fats, salts, preservatives, & processed foods all tend to be factors that increase the risk of a heart diseases and stroke. This is because these ingredients have been linked to high blood pressure, high cholesterol, obesity, diabetes & inflammation in the body, which also increase your risk of heart diseases and stroke. As you can see diet has both a direct and indirect effect on heart health.
So what can you do? One diet that is close to the American heart Association’s heart healthy recommendations is the Mediterranean diet. This is because it is reliant on unsaturated fats, colorful fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes & nuts, and their meat protein being from fish and poultry. While they stay away from red meats, added sugars, preservatives, saturated & trans fats, salt, and highly processed foods. Now realistically the everyday American is not going to be able to cut out all the bad things, so it is all about finding a balance and making an effort to reduce intake of these foods. Here are some easy things that you can start changing:
- Stop eating out and start cooking meals at home
- Eat colorful fruits and vegetables
- Pick fiber rich whole grains
- Choose poultry and fish over red meat
- Limit saturated and trans fats and choose unsaturated fats like olive oil instead
- Reduce salt use
- Limit processed foods and foods with preservatives
- Cut back on food and drinks with added sugars
Remember you want to consume smart calories= low calorie foods high in nutrients, foods that give you multiple benefits like unsalted nuts which fill you up and have good fats, gives energy, protein and fiber!
2) Physical Activity
Along with a balanced diet, physical activity is very important to heart health. There have been multiple studies which prove that physical activity reduces the risk of heart diseases and stroke. Also, there is hard scientific data that proves inactivity and sedentary lifestyles increase the risk of obesity, hypertension, higher blood sugar, and higher cholesterol levels leading to metabolic syndrome, which increases risk of heart attack, stroke, and death. One study found that people who are a healthy weight and physically active live about 7 years longer than those who are obese and are inactive. The following, from American Heart Association, are additional benefits that regular physical activity provides:
- lower your blood pressure
- boost your levels of good cholesterol
- improve blood flow (circulation)
- keep your weight under control
- prevent bone loss that can lead to osteoporosis
- Helps you quit smoking and stay tobacco-free.
- Boosts your energy level so you can get more done.
- Helps you manage stress and tension.
- Promotes a positive attitude and outlook.
- Helps you fall asleep faster and sleep more soundly.
- Improves your self-image and self-confidence.
- Provides fun ways to spend time with family, friends and pets.
- Helps you spend more time outdoors or in your community.
Its all about finding the time to fit physical activity in and it isn’t always as hard as one may think. The American Heart Association recommends at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity, or a combination of both, each week. That’s around 30 minutes a day, 5 days of the week, which is doable! One study in the American Journal of Epidemiology, found just 30 minutes of exercise a day can counteract a day of sitting. If limited to no time available to workout is your problem there are ways to stay active without going to the gym. Even better, there is new evidence that “exercise snacking” can be beneficial to aerobic fitness, although not as beneficial as doing the recommended activity. Exercise snacking is a term used to describe short bursts of exercise done throughout the day, like hurrying up the stairs multiple times throughout the day. A study in Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism, found that participants who ran up 60 steps 3 times a day increased their aerobic fitness by 5% after six weeks! Here are some additional ideas to increase your physical activity without going to the gym:
- Yard work and gardening
- House work
- Walking your dog
- Taking a walk with your family or friends
- Parking in the farthest spot to get extra steps in
- Take the stairs
- Walk to lunch (if plausible)
- Use the farthest bathroom in your office building
- Play outdoors with your kids
- Get up from your desk and move at least once an hour
- Walk instead of drive everywhere that you can (if plausible and if safe)
3) Mental Well-being & Important Habits (to quit and start)
This area is a slightly newer focus in comparison with diet and activity, but these factors are proving to have an effect on heart health. While smoking tobacco and excessive alcohol consumption have been known to increase your risk of heart diseases and stroke, research is showing sleep and mental health to affect heart health as well, which is a relatively new finding. In regards to mental health, research around stress, anxiety, and depression is starting to reveal that they may have more of an impact on heart health than previously believed. Although more research is needed, these 3 feelings can make a person participate in unhealthy habits and they may increase your blood pressure and cholesterol levels. Participating in unhealthy habits like smoking, drinking alcohol, overeating and eating junk food, mess with sleep patterns, and inactivity are all things that people use to manage or cope with their symptoms. These activities are also correlated with increasing the risk of heart diseases and stroke.
The estimated amount of time a person needs to sleep is 6-9 hours, with the CDC reporting an adult need at least 7 hours of sleep. Not getting adequate amounts of sleep is being linked to a number of health issues. Some of the more important ones regarding heart health are high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, atherosclerosis, obesity, heart failure, stroke, and heart attack. So, how can you get better and more sleep? The CDC suggests:
- Stick to a regular sleep schedule. Go to bed at the same time each night and get up at the same time each morning, including on the weekends.
- Get enough natural light, especially earlier in the day. Try going for a morning or lunchtime walk.
- Get enough physical activity during the day. Try not to exercise within a few hours of bedtime.
- Avoid artificial light, especially within a few hours of bedtime. Use a blue light filter on your computer or smartphone.
- Don’t eat or drink within a few hours of bedtime, especially alcohol and foods high in fat or sugar.
- Keep your bedroom cool, dark, and quiet.
Studies are showing that meditation and mindfulness can improve sleep, anxiety, stress, depression, and can reduce blood pressure, among other things. Both meditation and mindfulness have been utilized in helping people quit smoking or excessive alcohol use. Physical activity has also shown to help as well.
As you can see there is a lot that goes in to your heart health and this has just skimmed the information. You can learn more on the American Heart Association’s website. The key to heart health is a healthy you and that means both physically and mentally!