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.
All parents want what’s best for their kids. They want them to be the smartest in the class, or the fastest on the team. They give them time, money, support, encouragement, and love, all to help them be the best they can be. For many families, this is especially true when it comes to fitness and sports.
But before plowing into hours of practices and training sessions with spring sports right around the corner, it’s important for parents to ask themselves, “Are my kids working out too much, or not enough?”
According to research done at the University of Michigan, exercise is key to combating the obesity epidemic, especially in a nation where 15% of all children are estimated to be overweight. However, it’s also possible to push kids so hard in organized activities and athletics that they run the risk of injury and mental/emotional fatigue.
So, how do we determine what’s really best for kids?
Existing research isn’t too much help here. Many studies have been done on childhood fitness, and many sets of guidelines have been published. According to Harold Kohl, an epidemiologist from the University of Texas, there are at least 27 sets of official guidelines from various organizations without a lot of data to back them up.
For example, we don’t know why 60 minutes is more sufficient than 30 or 45, how play time or unorganized activity fits into the picture, or how individual differences impact the results. Fortunately, the experts do agree on a few things:
Kids who exercise have stronger muscles, greater endurance, and bones that are denser and have greater mineral content.
When obese children exercise regularly, their body fat, blood lipids, and blood pressure may fall.
Kids should not exercise as “little adults;” for example, it may not be safe for kids to run on a treadmill for 30 minutes straight.
Exercise impacts all children differently – some get more benefit than others, and some get none at all.
Left on their own, most children know best what their bodies need.
So what does this mean for families? Children spend a lot of time being told what to do by parents, teachers, peers, and the media. Maybe it’s time to include our children in the decision-making process, and in turn, teach our kids to listen to their own bodies.
Whether they choose to participate in organized athletics or unorganized activity (“just play”), they stand to gain the benefits of building and maintaining a healthy lifestyle, without risking physical or emotional burnout. Activity can contribute fun, creativity, new skills, teamwork, and personal fulfillment to a child’s life.