February is the month of all things heart-related, and we want to make sure you know how to be heart-healthy! Diabetes, high blood pressure (hypertension), and high cholesterol are all significant risk factors for heart disease. If you have one of these conditions, then it’s vitally important that you do what you can to decrease your risk. Have you had your blood pressure checked lately? Your cholesterol? Since there are rarely symptoms of high blood pressure or high cholesterol, it’s important to get both checked on a regular basis.
Whether you face these health challenges- or just want to learn 5 key ways to take good care of your heart, read on for our top heart-healthy tips!
- Eat like you’re in a Blue Zone – Blue Zones are locations on Earth where people live the longest. It is not uncommon for people in Blue Zones to live to be 100 because they have a diet and lifestyle that emphasizes well-being. These folks eat a largely plant-based or pescatarian diet with abundant healthy omega 3s, they walk after they eat, and exercise is a natural part of their day. This Mediterranean diet has some of the strongest evidence for lowering your risk of cardiovascular disease. Unlike the Standard American diet (yes, the “SAD” diet…), the Mediterranean diet has abundant anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids. When it comes to fat though, be sure to avoid anything with partially hydrogenated oils – they are trans fats in disguise and limit your body’s blood flow by sneaking into “bad” cholesterol particles and depositing into the blood vessels that carry oxygen to the tissues. Omega-3 healthy fats like olive oil, avocado, nuts and seeds can slow this process, so be sure to eat a good amount of these each day. If you’re unfamiliar with the Mediterranean Diet, check out the Mediterranean Food Pyramid here.
- Get plenty of zzz’s – Sleep is essential for all of our body’s functions, and 7-8 hours a night is ideal for most. Studies show that people who get less than 6 hours a night are twice as likely to have a heart attack or stroke. Sleep is restorative. Do you wake up with morning headaches, or are you always tired? That could be a sign of sleep apnea, a health condition that may interrupt the healthy stages of sleep. Did you know that high blood pressure could also be one of the first signs of sleep apnea? Snoring can as well. If you are unsure if you snore, ask a housemate. Many phones and watches these days have sleep trackers that can help you make sure you are getting enough (and good quality!) sleep.
- Release stress in healthy ways – Meditate, journal, talk with friends, walk outside, breathe deeply and consciously. Remember that meditation does not have to happen sitting completely still; you can do a walking meditation by simply focusing on how each part of your foot touches the ground during each step. Alternatively, look at the trees you pass by and see if you can find fractals (repeating patterns) in nature. Meaning, find the tree, then its branch, then its leaf, then the patterns of the leaf. These fractals can be very soothing for the nervous system. In addition, I like to recommend using the HeartMath device for biofeedback to decrease stress. It takes only 5-10 minutes of your day, has proven lasting qualities of decreased anxiety and stress with continued use, and can be found at www.heartmath.com.
- Exercise daily – a 10-15 minute walk after dinner decreases insulin levels, which directly impacts your risk for diabetes and weight management. Insulin inhibits the breakdown of fat, so if you have high insulin levels, it can cause weight gain. There is a stronger impact on your health when you do less activity on more days, meaning that small increments of exercise daily are better than a long, hard workout on the weekend. Try getting up from your chair and sitting against the wall for a couple minutes at least once an hour. Or lift some light weights while watching TV. Retrain your brain to think positively about exercise, and find ways to incorporate natural movement into your daily routine. For some great 8-20 minute workouts and exercises, check out Pamela Reif on YouTube.
- Get your lipids checked – The newest research on lipids is robust, and what we know about our current cholesterol panel is that it’s lacking in helping individuals make decisions about how to treat high cholesterol. Advanced Lipid Testing is a more accurate way to test your individual risk to determine the best treatment for you, such as testing for apolipoprotein B. Call us at Vital to schedule an appointment to test your lipids and discuss your heart health today!
Even just choosing one of these heart-healthy tips that you can apply today will decrease your risk of heart disease and boost your heart’s wellness. Here’s to your good health!