Five ways to love your heart
Here are some little daily habits that go a long way in preventing heart disease.
1. Eat a diet that is low in saturated fats, cholesterol and sodium.
Taking the time to read food labels will help you understand what foods you should avoid or eat in small quantities. Saturated fats are found in prepared foods and animal products including meats, milk, butter and eggs. Limit your red meat intake, choose lean cuts of chicken and turkey, and eat more soy protein and fish, including salmon, tuna and sardines (high in cholesterol lowering omega-3 fatty acids). In prepared foods, avoid products made with transfats and hydrogenated vegetable oils. One great way to reduce your cholesterol is to increase your fiber intake with more fruits, vegetables, beans and whole-grain foods. Try to consume 25 to 35 grams of fiber each day. Keep an eye on sodium too. Sodium is found in many foods like processed meats, eggs and bread. Make a conscious effort to consume only 2 grams or less of sodium per day (1/3 of a teaspoon).
2. Do 30 minutes of daily exercise that gets your heart rate up.
Simply make exercise a part of your daily routine. Find an activity that fits your lifestyle and take the time to do it. If you are busy, the good news is that the 30 minutes does not have to be consecutive. You can do three 10 minute spurts (or two 15 minute spurts) of activity that get your heart rate up. You might do short and brisk walks two to three times a day.
3. If you smoke: STOP.
Smoking is a major risk factor for heart disease. Smokers have about a 70 percent higher death rate from coronary artery disease than do nonsmokers. When you want to quit smoking, help is available. When you quit, your heart will begin to rejuvenate. Think about it. It will make you and your loved ones healthier and happier at the same time. Also, do your best to avoid secondhand smoke.
4. Keep your blood pressure and cholesterol at normal levels.
If you do all three of the above, your blood pressure and cholesterol levels will probably be in a healthy range. A good blood pressure is around 120/80 mm Hg and a good total cholesterol level should be 200 mg/DL or lower. To keep them in check, be sure to have these levels measured regularly, and take medications from your doctor when necessary.
5. Keep stress levels in check.
Don’t ignore it when you’re feeling stressed for more than a day. To keep your ticker healthy, it’s important to assess your stress level every so often. Ideas for stress reduction include everything from listening to music to having a regular exercise routine to taking the time to meditate. Whatever you do, find what works for you. Doctors are even finding that laughter eases blood flow and reduces our stress, so try bringing some levity into your daily life. Another way to keep stress in check for the long term is to have a good network of friends with whom you can talk. Finally, be sure to separate your family time from work time. This can do wonders.
Joseph Bering Jr., MD, FACC is a cardiologist at UPMC Susquehanna’s Heart & Vascular Institute.