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Ten Ways to Boost Your Heart Health

Written by: Alon Steinberg, MD

“Today is the first day of the rest of your life,” may be an annoying cliché, but there’s no denying it’s true. To make the rest of your life as long as possible, protect yourself from the leading cause of death in both sexes -- heart disease. Here are ten tips you can implement immediately–maybe even today–to reduce your risk for cardiovascular disease.

  1. Know your risk factors for heart disease

There are two types of risk factors for heart disease. Medical risk factors pertain to your health history and existing conditions. Behavioral risk factors are linked to your lifestyle. However, several medical risk factors, such as diabetes or elevated cholesterol, may be preventable if you make certain lifestyle changes now.

Medical risk factors

  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol
  • Diabetes
  • Obesity
  • Family history of heart disease

Behavioral risk factors

  • Tobacco use and exposure to second hand smoke
  • Excess alcohol consumption (more than one drink a day for women, and two drinks a day for men)
  • A sedentary lifestyle
  • A diet high in saturated fats, trans fat, cholesterol, sugar, and salt
  • Chronic stress

If you have some of these risk factors, discuss them with your doctor at your next appointment.

  1. Get moving!

According to the World Health Organization, a sedentary lifestyle doubles the risk of cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, and obesity, and increases the risks of colon cancer, high blood pressure, osteoporosis, lipid disorders, depression, and anxiety. These are all good reasons to get more active! With many of us working at a desk eight hours a day, that’s easier said than done.

If you’re already working out regularly, good for you. If not, here’s something you can do right now: Take a ten minute walk. If you’re too busy to go to the gym, break up your work day with three ten minute walks. Sneak in more movement by parking far from the store or taking the stairs instead of the elevator and start using the step counter on your phone. You’ll be surprised how fast those steps add up. Aim for 8,000 – 10,000 steps per day to start.

  1. Stamp out that cigarette and quit for good!

A huge international study found that ALL tobacco consumption, whether through smoking, vaping, chewing, or inhaling second hand smoke, is bad for the heart. If you’re a smoker, now’s the time to quit. If you don’t do it for your own health, consider that of the non-smokers around you. Just one to seven hours of exposure to second-hand smoke a week raises the heart attack risk for non-smokers by 24%.

Don’t be discouraged if you’ve tried to quit before: According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), it takes the average smoker eight to ten attempts before they successfully quit for good.

  1. Eat right and stay well

The link between diet and heart disease is a powerful one. You can make an immediate impact on your heart health by reducing the saturated fats, trans fats, and cholesterol in your diet and going easy on the sugar and salt. Instead, feast on fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, lean protein, and modest quantities of healthy fats. Get started today by eating an extra serving of fruits or vegetables. You can learn more about the negative impact of certain foods on your heart health in the article below.

  1. Take your blood pressure regularly

Taking your blood pressure regularly is essential to understanding what’s normal for you – especially if your “normal” is not normal. Some drug stores have blood pressure machines, or you can invest in a cuff to use at home. Keep a record of your readings to share with your physician. The chart below will help you interpret your numbers.

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  1. Reduce your stress

Modern life is stressful and fast-paced. Try meditation, yoga or tai chi, all of which can help reduce stress. You don’t have to be a contortionist to do yoga–just look for classes labeled “gentle”, “yin” or “restorative.” Community Memorial Wellness & Fitness Center offers a variety of meditation and yoga classes. Click here for a class schedule.

If your day is not going well, take five minutes to relax and breathe slowly and deeply. You may want to take a look at the stressors in your life and see what you can change. Sometimes that’s as easy as learning to say no to people who ask you for favors or want you to take on extra work.

  1. Wash your hands frequently

What does this have to do with your heart? Recent studies indicate that the flu raises your risk for heart disease. Roughly half the adults hospitalized with the flu have already been diagnosed with heart disease, and 7% of those patients die from flu-related complications. An influenza infection triggers an inflammatory response that can cause blood clots, increased blood pressure and even scarring or swelling in the heart in certain patients. Get your yearly flu shot and keep up with your COVID boosters.

  1. Brush and floss your teeth often

Some studies indicate a link between gum disease and heart disease. The bacteria involved in the development of gum disease can migrate to the bloodstream and cause an elevation in C-reactive protein. This is a marker for blood vessel inflammation that indicates an increased risk for heart disease.

  1. Get enough sleep

Regardless of your age or health habits, inadequate sleep can raise your risk for cardiovascular disease. The CDC recommends a minimum of seven hours each night for adults 18 and older. Inadequate sleep has been linked to weight gain, insulin resistance (which can lead to type 2 diabetes), and inflammation, all of which increase your risk for heart disease. For better sleep, the CDC recommends:

  • Going to bed and waking up at the same time each day, including weekends
  • Sleeping in a cool, dark, quiet place – black out shades are a good investment for the sleep-deprived
  • No TV, computers, or cell phone in the bedroom – the blue light they emit interferes with sleep
  • No caffeine, alcohol, or large meals before bed
  • Regular exercise so you’re physically tired at bedtime

For more in-depth information about improving your sleep, see the article below in this newsletter.

  1. Make plans with people you enjoy

According to the American Heart Association, social isolation and loneliness are associated with a 30% increased risk of heart attack or stroke. Especially common among seniors, social isolation affects nearly one quarter of US adults ages 65 and older. However, the problem isn’t limited to seniors. Isolation and loneliness are increasing, particularly among younger adults ages 18 – 25, with texts and emails often replacing actual contact with friends and family. No matter how old ― or young ― you may be, seeing the people you care about is good for your heart.

By taking a few of these easy steps today, you’ll be on the right path to improving your heart health and enhancing your overall wellness! Learn more about the heart health support and resources available through Community Memorial.