Healthy Habits for Heart Disease Prevention

by The Cooperative
Our heart is an amazing organ; it acts as the generator of our bodies, pumping blood and oxygen to every organ and tissue. Unfortunately, heart disease is currently the leading cause of death in the United States. Good news, though! We can take preventative measures through nutrition, exercise, and stress management. The following are essential for a healthy heart:

Be clean and colorful.
Clean up your meals: Structure your nutritional regimen around nutrient-rich foods such as fruit, vegetables, whole grains, lean protein, and healthy fats. Aim to limit the following:
  • Saturated fat: red and processed meats, full-fat dairy, and fast food.
  • Refined sugar: baked goods, candy, some yogurts and cereals, soda, and energy drinks.
  • Added sodium: prepackaged and frozen dinners, soup, salty snacks, and condiments.
A diet high in saturated fat and sodium can encourage fluid retention and block blood flow, while excess sugar intake can promote weight gain and pressure the heart valves. Over time, these factors can increase the risk of heart attack and stroke. When in doubt, check the nutrition label and select foods low in additives and salt.

Dine with a colorful palate: As a rule of thumb, cover half your plate with produce – the more colorful, the better! Fruit and vegetables with bright hues are loaded with phytochemicals that support cell health and prevent chronic disease. For instance, blue and purple fruits, such as blueberries and grapes, can reduce inflammation around the heart vessels, lowering LDL cholesterol and blood pressure.

Be active and aerobic.
Whether you are walking, lifting weights, or dancing in your living room, move your body, and move it often. If time is a factor, be active in creative or productive ways - deep cleaning, gardening, and yard work can all increase your heart rate. In general, it is recommended for adults to aim for the following each week:

150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity (brisk walking or water aerobics).
75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity (running, biking, or sports).
Two or more days of muscle-strengthening exercise (weights, resistance bands, body weight resistance movements such as push-ups, and some yoga).

Consistent exercise conditions your heart muscle, improving your stamina and supporting weight management. Maintaining a healthy weight, in addition to lifestyle habits, places less strain on your heart when performing day to day activities.
Be mindful of sleep, stress, and smoking.
Get your beauty sleep: Aim for 7-9 hours of uninterrupted sleep every evening. When you sleep, your organs and bodily processes can rest and recharge. Consistent poor sleep can keep our blood pressure elevated for longer periods, increasing the risk for heart attack and stroke. Stick to a regular schedule, sleep in a cool, dark room, and avoid electronics before bedtime.

Tame the stress beast: We all experience stress, but how we cope sets the tone for a healthy and happy body. Chronic stress can increase blood pressure and heart rate, which can slowly damage artery walls; therefore, it is critical to learn and apply stress management techniques. Activities such as meditation, deep breathing, volunteering, laughing, and establishing social connections can all be beneficial to managing our body’s stress response. Psst: Exercise can also provide the rush of endorphins needed for a mood boost.

Quit smoking: If you’re currently a tobacco user, now is the time to develop a quit plan. The chemicals from smoking can injure heart vessels and promote plaque buildup in the arteries, significantly raising the risk of heart disease. Thankfully, there are a myriad of strategies to help with quitting: nicotine replacement therapies, learning new skills, or obtaining support from loved ones or a Quitline. Always contact your doctor for further information.

Be your own health advocate.
Take charge of your health by scheduling annual visits with your physician to monitor your blood pressure and cholesterol. Understanding your risk factors can serve as motivation for adopting healthier behaviors. Prevention is key.

Managing your heart health will require some lifestyle modifications, but it is fundamental for an optimal quality of life and disease prevention. Let’s take care of our hearts, and let’s start today.
By, Coach Kaleigh

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