It’s hard to exaggerate the important of heart health when almost 600,000 million Americans die of heart disease every year. Even individuals who are apparently fit and healthy can be caught unawares by a diagnosis, so let’s take a look at the steps you can take today to give yourself the best chance at a healthy heart now and in the future.
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Step 1 – Know your numbers and risk profile: Schedule a doctor’s appointment and a blood test to learn the important numbers (risk factors) for heart disease, such as your blood pressure, cholesterol level, fasting blood glucose level, and BMI.
Having multiple factors for heart disease increases your risk exponentially, and some factors, such as age, gender, family history, and race, can’t be controlled. However, knowing where you stand on the others will help you take the appropriate action; according Dr. Philip A. Ades of Eating Well, treating any one risk factor effectively halves your likelihood of developing heart disease.
Step 2 – Quit smoking (or better yet, don’t start): It’s easy for non-smokers to cite all of the negative effects of this habit as reasons to “just stop,” but they may not understand the seriousness of the lifestyle change required to quit. If it’s been a while since you have reviewed the risks associated with smoking, check them out here, and work with your doctor to develop a plan to quit.
The importance of the remaining steps cannot be understated, as they directly impact all of the remaining heart disease risk factors:
Step 3 – Adjust your diet if necessary: Making a conscious effort to reduce intake of saturated and trans fats, added sugars and sodium, and excess calories in general greatly reduces your risk for heart disease.
Some of the best ways to do that? Eat less heavily processed and refined food and substitute with more whole grains, fruits and vegetables, and lean proteins (including fish, nuts, beans, and lean meats). Keep a close eye on portion sizes of snacks and meals to lower your chances of overeating, and drink alcohol in moderation. For more healthy diet and nutrition tips from Midtown, click here.
Step 4 – Exercise more (or at the very least, sit less): Losing weight (or lowering BMI) is just one potential benefit of regular exercise. Consistent daily and weekly efforts to get up and move will help you become healthier, stronger, and more energized, and just 10 minutes of activity here and there can make a big difference.
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Once you begin consciously moving more, try adding more traditional exercise to your routine a few days per week for just a few weeks. Experiment with different activities until you settle on one that works for you. Your body and mind may not react positively right away, but if you don’t give exercise a real chance (which means a consistent effort), you will never experience the real benefits.
Step 5 – Stress less: While we hold out hope that someone will develop a “magic pill” that will banish stress from our lives forever, managing stress remains one of the most difficult aspects of our lives. Work and family commitments alone are enough to overwhelm our calendars and our worry threshold for the month. You can try to sleep more, take more time for yourself, and clear your schedule, but it’s not always possible to do those things.
So what can you do? It may help to start by identifying the centers of stress in your life and how you feel about them. Observe what happens to your mind and body when you experience stress. Knowing what causes your stress in the first place can help you gain new perspective and create coping strategies that will reduce stress and its consequences. It takes patience and practice, but you and your heart are worth it.