Protect yourself from heart disease with small changes
Here's some good news: you do have power against heart disease, heart attack, and stroke. You can lower your risk by making small lifestyle changes. Try these.
Keep your mind busy
Stress can make you forget to do things that are good for the heart, such as eating well and exercising. "Don't stress" is great advice, but it's often easier said than done. Instead, accept stress, then focus your mind on something else. Try spending at least 15 minutes each day on a hobby, whether it's knitting, woodworking, or solving crossword puzzles.
Get your heart pumping
The heart is a muscle, and working out makes it stronger. Aim to get your heart rate up at least 30 minutes a day, 5 days a week. You can walk, run, bike, dance, or swim. Having a hard time fitting in exercise? If you have children, make your time together active fun. Walk or bike in your neighborhood. Play basketball in the driveway or catch in the yard.
Check your cholesterol
Most adults should have their cholesterol checked every 5 years. If you are at risk for heart disease or are managing heart disease, your doctor may want to check it more often. Talk to your doctor about your cholesterol levels. Ask if there are steps you can take to improve them. Cutting back on foods that are high in saturated fat and choosing more plant-based foods can help.
Fill up on fiber
Eating high-fiber foods helps lower heart disease risk. High-fiber foods can also help you lose weight because they tend to be more filling so you end up eating less. Great sources of fiber include:
- Fruits and vegetables
- Whole grains, such as whole wheat bread, brown rice, oats, and quinoa
You know eating too much sugar can lead to weight gain. But sweeteners may also cause an increase in blood pressure. In fact, added sugars in many packaged foods may play a bigger role in high blood pressure than added salt. If you love sugary sodas, try swapping one for seltzer water with a splash of fruit juice.
It's wise to be aware of how many calories you are generally eating or drinking, but it's unrealistic to follow a strict eating plan all the time. The trick is to treat yourself occasionally, not regularly. If you are going out for dinner and want dessert, balance your calories by skipping the appetizer and eating less of your main dish. Going to a summer party? Look for chopped veggies and fresh fruit to pair with your burger.
Sleep, sleep, sleep
Getting enough sleep is important for heart health. Poor sleep has been linked to high blood pressure, a risk factor for heart disease. Plus, better sleep means more energy and less stress in the day. Set a bedtime for yourself, and plan to sleep 7 to 8 hours each night. Turn off your phone, computer, and television before bed. Bright lights from electronics can disturb sleep. If you regularly have problems sleeping, tell your doctor.
Start a new healthy habit
It's not too late to start living healthier. Positive habits now can protect your heart years in the future and lower your risk for other health problems, too. Make fitness part of your daily routine. If you aren't regularly active, start by walking. Get in the habit of including fruits and vegetables at each meal. Start with just one meal, and add on from there.
Cigarette users are twice as likely to have a heart attack as people who don't smoke. But if you smoke, your body starts repairing itself soon after your last puff. In a few months, your heart will work better. Many health plans cover nicotine dependency programs and drugs at no cost to you. Check with your health plan today. You can also call 800-QUIT-NOW or go to smokefree.gov for free tips to quit smoking.