Happy New Year!
What’s Your Heart Health Resolution?
Happy New Year! Now that we have gotten past the holiday season, where we celebrated with family and friends, indulged in delicious (often unhealthy) meals, took a break from our fitness routine and treated ourselves to all the delights and pleasures the holiday season had to offer, it’s time to refocus on our health.
If you are like me, I bet you have made your new year’s resolution and listed all the wonderful things that you plan to accomplish in 2018. Since it is still January, my guess is that you are still excited about your resolutions and you still believe that you will achieve them. I hate to break it to you but most people do not keep their New Year resolution because they are too grand, unrealistic, or vague. It’s better to be as specific as possible and take small steps in the direction that you want to go, especially as it relates to making lifestyle changes.
Heart disease is not inevitable, even if it runs in your family. My brand of heart disease is rheumatic heart disease, which I acquired over time as a result of rheumatic fever, a complication of untreated strep throat I had as a child. Although my heart disease is not lifestyle related, most people can prevent or reduce their risk of getting heart disease by modifying their behaviors especially through healthy eating, physical activity, and smoking cessation.
As we start the year off, let’s take a look at the top 6 heart disease risk factors and ponder on how you can adjust your lifestyle in 2018 to protect your heart.
- Hypertension (commonly known as high blood pressure) – According to the World Heart Foundation, high blood pressure is defined as a repeatedly elevated systolic pressure of 140 or higher OR a diastolic pressure of 90 or higher. High blood pressure is a serious condition that usually requires medical interventions including medication and or diet and exercise programs. The problem is a lot of people with hypertension do not know they have it and that is why it is often referred to as the “silent killer”
What can you do this year to reduce your risk for high blood pressure?
- Eat healthy meals low in saturated fat, sodium (salt) or sugar
- Be more physically active and maintain a healthy weight- aim for about 30 minutes of moderate exercise daily
- Limit your alcohol consumption to no more than 1 drink per day for women and 2 drinks for men.
- Talk to your doctor and take your medications as prescribed.
- Tobacco Use – If you know me you know smoking or chewing tobacco is not my thing. No judgment if you are a smoker! I can’t pretend to understand what it is like to be addicted to nicotine but I imagine that it is hard to kick the habit. Here’s the thing, tobacco use is bad for your heart health!
According to the World Heart Association, smoking is estimated to cause nearly 10 percent of cardiovascular disease (CVD) and is the second leading cause of CVD, after high blood pressure.
How does tobacco use affect your heart? In a number of ways; in fact, smoking or chewing tobacco damages blood vessels temporarily raises blood pressure, and lowers exercise tolerance. Tobacco decreases oxygen that the blood can carry and increases the tendency for blood clots, which if formed in the arteries can lead to a range of heart disease, a stroke, or sudden death.
What can you do this year to reduce your risk of tobacco-related health concerns?
STOP smoking (or chewing tobacco). I know it’s not easy but there is evidence to suggest that within 12 hours of quitting smoking your body will cleanse itself of the excess carbon monoxide caused by cigarettes. Within days, months and years of quitting smoking, you will reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease.
There are lots of resources available to help you quit smoking in 2018. Seek help if you need it.
- Diabetes- Diabetes is a chronic condition that affects the way the body processes blood sugar (glucose). If you develop diabetes you are at greater risk of developing cardiovascular disease. Poor diet and physical inactivity can increase your risk of developing Type 2 diabetes.
How does diabetes affect your heart? Over time, high blood glucose from diabetes can damage your blood vessels and the nerves that control your heart and blood vessels. In fact, in adults with diabetes, the most common causes of death are heart disease and stroke.
What can you do in 2018 to reduce your risk of diabetes?
- Just say no to excess body fat. Being overweight is a big risk factor for diabetes
- Follow a plant-based, low-calorie diet consisting of a variety of fruits and vegetables. This can be challenging but making incremental dietary changes can yield positive results to keep you motivated.
- H2O Anyone? Put the soda and juices down. Dink up your water and you will start to see a difference in the way you look and feel.
- Move your body -get moving and make physical activity a daily part of your life. Physical activity comes in many forms so find an activity that you enjoy and get that heart rate up.
- Stress less – we all know that stress has a negative impact on our health. Find practical ways to cope with stress.
- Sleep well – sleep, sleep, sleep
- Keep medical appointments– work with your health care team to monitor your health and develop a plan of care that works for your needs.
- High Cholesterol – Cholesterol isn’t necessarily a bad thing but too much in your body puts you at risk for heart disease. When there is too much cholesterol in your blood it builds up in the walls of your arteries causing atherosclerosis, which is a form of heart disease. The build-up causes the arteries to become narrow and blood flow to the heart muscle slows down or is blocked. The blood carries oxygen to the heart so if insufficient blood or oxygen reaches your heart, you may suffer chest pains. Even worse, if the blood supply to a portion of the heart is completely cut off by a blockage, the result is a heart attack.
What can you do to reduce your cholesterol?
- Eat heart-healthy foods-This includes choosing healthier fats, eliminating trans fats, eat foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids and increasing soluble fiber.
- Exercise and increase physical activity– It goes without saying… exercise and being physically active has tremendous health benefits. Moderate physical activity can help raise high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, the “good” cholesterol. Exercise doesn’t have to be boring, instead, find activities that you enjoy and make it fun.
- Quit smoking– just stop! Seriously, smoking is bad for your health. If you are a smoker try to find resources to help you quit including smokefree.gov (https://smokefree.gov/free-resources).
- Lose weight- Carrying even a few extra pounds contributes to high cholesterol. Losing as little as 5 to 10 percent of your weight can improve cholesterol levels.
- Drink alcohol in moderation- I like the sauce just like the next person but you have to be smart (and careful) when consuming alcohol. It is suggested that if you drink you should do so in moderation. For healthy adults, that means up to one drink a day for women of all ages and men older than age 65, and up to two drinks a day for men age 65 and younger.
- Medication- Speak with your healthcare team to evaluate all our options to reduce your cholesterol.
- Unhealthy Diet-It’s January so we are all on a diet but if you are serious about making heart-healthy changes, you should focus on lifestyle dietary changes that are sustainable. An unhealthy diet contributes to all the risk factors for heart disease. If you are able to monitor and control your diet you will reduce your overall cardiovascular disease risk and improve your health. When it comes to adopting a realistic heart-healthy diet you should focus on eating whole foods that have been minimally processed rather than counting calories. Depending on where you are on your ‘dietary scale’ you can start by making small changes such as replacing soda and juice for water, including more fruits and vegetables and minimizing the number of meats and dairy products you consume.
I am not going to pretend that I have this whole diet thing figured out but for 2018 I plan to be more intentional about what goes into my body. I have to admit that I decided to give up meat every week this month and I am usually successful until I am confronted with some jerk chicken, curried goat, oxtail (can you guess that I am Jamaican). Instead of being so drastic I have decided to follow the 80/20 rule where I eat clean most days but allow myself room to indulge if I feel like it. Do you have a diet rule that you follow?
- Physical Inactivity & Obesity- Regular physical activity reduces the risk of dying prematurely from cardiovascular disease. Being physically active also helps prevent the development of diabetes, helps maintain weight loss, and reduces hypertension, which are all independent risk factors for heart disease. It is recommended that adults get at least 30 minutes of moderate physical activity most days of the week. Here is the deal, moderate activities include some of the things you do on a daily basis such as walking, climbing stairs, gardening, yard work, housework etc. For 2018, I encourage you to try to add exercise to your weekly schedule. It could be a home exercise program ( hint: there are so many exercise options on YouTube), joining a gym or a walking group such as GirTrek (http://www.girltrek.org/) or just spending more time outdoors when you can. A sedentary lifestyle is bad for your health….. Let’s make 2018 an active year.
I know 2018 will be a heart-healthy year for all of you. I want to support you in any way that you need me to help you achieve your goals.