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The NSPA Blog

A Healthy Heart Beat

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Posted on March 5th, 2020 by Bettina Carlson, under Heart Disease, Patient Tools, Take Charge

In our previous blog post Hear Beats (https://www.northshorern.com/heart-beats/), we addressed that our heart is an organ that’s largely made up of muscle, which has the vital function of pumping blood to the organs and tissues of your body. Hence, it is very important that we take good care of our hearts. Aside from some risk factors that are beyond our control, we are lucky to know, that many others are within our control and that it’s never too late to make lifestyle changes that promote heart health.

As we listed in Heart Beat, while some risk factors, such as age and family history cannot be changed, we have some control over the other risk factors! 

Following are some tips on how you can take control and support your heart health. None of these are new but deserve to be mentioned again in our continued journey to our collective heart health. Our heart health is in our hands.

Take Care of your Heart

Eat Healthy Nutritious Foods  

Heart-healthy nutrition on your plate looks like:

• Lots of vegetables, salad, and fruit. These are a good source of vitamins, minerals, and fiber.

• Avoid trans fats. They can raise LDL (bad) cholesterol while lowering HDL (good) cholesterol. Trans fats are often found in things like cookies, cakes, or french fries fats 

• Adjust your sources of protein to plenty of fish, beans, nuts, and lean meats.

• Limit sugar or other sweeteners

• Limit foods high in sodium, as those can contribute to high blood pressure.

• Vegetable oils 

• Whole grains, or better look for “ancient grains”.

Be mindful and proactive by reading food labels, and choosing your foods carefully. Remember the saying: “You are what you eat!” 

Keep A Healthy Weight

Being overweight is putting extra stress on our hearts, and thus increases our risk of having heart problems, such as high blood cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes, or a stroke. If our scale shows too many pounds, it’s a heart-healthy move to lose some pounds to prevent such heart problems. 

You struggle to stick to your chosen weight loss program, start an accountability group with friends or family. A “buddy” system like this can motivate to stay on track. 

Regular Exercise

With exercise, we can positively impact our blood pressure, blood sugar, and blood cholesterol. Exercise also improves heart circulation. 

A common recommendation is to get at least 2 1/2 hours of physical aerobic activity each week. Ideally, we split it up into more regular units, such as about 30 minutes a day, 5 days a week. Let’s make sure to include muscle strengthening exercises a couple of times a week. 

However, this is not always possible for each of us. But that is not a reason to quit or to not start. It just asks for flexibility and adaptations. Instead of 30 minutes once a day, try 5,10, or 15 minutes a few times a day.  

You don’t need a gym either; use the stairs instead of the escalator or elevator; park your car further away from your destination and walk a few extra steps; get off the train or bus one stop early and walk the rest of the way; replace a coffee break with a short 10 minutes walk; do strength exercises while watching TV; go on a walk with a friend and neighbor and enjoy a nice talk (I call it “walky-talky”); and more. 

Avoid sitting for a long time. Make sure to get up occasionally to move around and stretch.

Healthy Sleep

In our daily lives, filled with meetings, deadlines, and other obligations, sleep often gets the short end. We don’t schedule enough time for restorative sleep. Our minds are still busy when we are long tired and in need of good sleep, and so sometimes we struggle to fall asleep, and we lose out on restorative sleep. Unfortunately, we know that not getting enough sleep or regularly getting poor sleep can be harmful to our heart health. Most adults need 7-8 hours of sleep. 

Try to set up healthy sleep habits like:

• Have a regular bedtime

• Practice meditation 

• Practice journaling 

• Or any relaxation therapy that suits you 

• No late-night eating

• Turn off screens a couple of hours before bedtime

• Keep your room dark and cool

• Take a warm bath before bedtime

• And more

Reduce Stress

Stress is not good for us, and it is not good for our heart either. When we are stressed our heartbeat increases and our body releases hormones which eventually can damage our blood vessels. Especially permanent stress can contribute to high blood pressure as well as to other heart risks.

If you find yourself frequently or permanently stressed, identify the root causes and try to eliminate them if possible. When your stress cannot be eliminated or avoided, find and adopt techniques to help you cope with your stress. There are many options available, from counseling to journaling to mediation and many more. 

Stress also can lead to unhealthy lifestyle habits, such as smoking or poor sleep. Both are risk factors for heart disease. More reasons to get a handle on stress. 

Quit Smoking

Regularly smoking harms your heart and blood vessels in many ways, as it increases blood pressure and promotes plaque build up in your blood vessels. 

No doubt, quitting smoking is hard, but many people have succeeded, you can be one of them. Be careful to not replace it with another vice, like eating sweets or even just eating more. Rather find a hobby that keeps your hands busy, like knitting, woodworking, painting, puzzles, etc. And just think how the money you will save on tobacco products can afford you a nice reward once you’ve been successful!

The Bottom Line

Yes, there are genetic predispositions and other risk factors that put you at risk for heart disease, but you are not doomed to get heart disease when you are older. Take charge and adopt a heart-healthy lifestyle. 

Also, while it sounds obvious, tell your doctor you want to keep your heart healthy and would like their support in this goal. For your doctor to do this best, answer their questions as honestly and fully as possible. 

Now, that you are empowered with information, it’s up to you to implement it and use it as your heart-healthy superpower!  

Sources and Resources

Taking Care of Our Hearts, Together. https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/sites/default/files/publications/Taking_care_hearts_together_Fact_Sheet_Final.pdf

National Heart Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI). https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov

The following FACT SHEETS by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute are excellent quick reference sheets. Make sure to look at them. 

The truth about fats: the good, the bad, and the in-between.  https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/the-truth-about-fats-bad-and-good

Move More. Making Physical Activity Routine. https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/sites/default/files/media/docs/Fact_Sheet_Move_More_508.pdf

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