Cardiovascular disease remains the world’s number one killer, causing over 18.6 million deaths every year. The heart – an organ approximately the size of a closed fist – serves as the body’s powerhouse to sustain life. With every beat, the heart ensures proper blood and oxygen flow throughout the body. However, it is vulnerable to severe damage from modifiable risk factors such as unhealthy eating habits, lack of exercise, smoking, and stress. One or a combination of these risk factors increases the risk for a cardiovascular event, such as a heart attack or stroke. So what can you do to maintain a healthy heart and decrease your risk for a cardiovascular event?
Change your lifestyle
Easier said than done, right? Making slight, but not drastic changes to your lifestyle, such as eating healthier and getting enough exercise, can significantly improve your cardiovascular health. We recommend, when making these changes, to start slow. For instance, instead of switching to a carbohydrate free diet, eliminate sugary beverages or cut down on the portion size of your daily meals. Sometimes people feel overwhelmed and give up easily if they make too many changes at once. We also recommend consultation with a physician or certified nutritionist if you’re planning to make significant dietary changes.
Stop using tobacco
More than 1 in 10 cardiovascular deaths are caused by long term effects of smoking. Not a smoker but exposed to secondhand smoke? You are also at an increased risk for sustaining a cardiovascular event. Did you know that approximately 1.2 million deaths are due to exposure to secondhand smoke? Stopping the use of tobacco and avoiding exposure to secondhand smoke ensures that you can protect your heart. To receive assistance for yourself or help a loved one in stopping the use of tobacco, individuals can call 1-800-QUIT-NOW or speak to their primary care physician or health provider for additional therapies to help quit.
Move more & sit less
Get up and get moving! Our bodies were made to move and constantly be in motion. A sizable amount of physical activity each week will improve your heart health and reduce the risk for a cardiovascular event. The Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans recommends adults need 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity each week. Trying to figure out how to squeeze in an extra 150 minutes per week in your already busy week? Consider breaking this into 30 minute increments x 5 days. Still unsure how you can find an extra 30 minutes each day? Consider going for a walk in the morning to get your day started or going for a walk on your lunch break to get some fresh air. You can be active even in or around your home. Light chores or even yard work is physical activity. Jogging in place for 5 minutes is a surprising way to get your heart rate up. Any movement or exercise is better than none. Click here for more tips on how to get active.
Eat a heart-healthy diet
We recommend your diet has a variety of items from ALL of the five food groups – fruits, vegetables, proteins (lean and unprocessed meats and poultry), grains (primarily whole grains), and dairy (low fat or non-fat). Minimize your intake of processed foods and added sugars and refrain from adding extra salt to your meal (again easier said than done). You will be surprised how much salt is even in ordinary meals. For instance, a turkey sandwich has enough sodium in it to be the daily recommended intake of sodium. Any more and you’re already above your limit! Literature has shown that the more salt and processed foods you consume can lead to high blood pressure, which is also a risk factor for cardiovascular events. Having trouble coming up with meal ideas that are heart healthy and taste delicious? Click here for heart healthy recipes.
Get enough healthy sleep
When your body receives quality sleep, your chance for heart disease, obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes, and stroke drastically decrease.On average, adults 18 years of age and older should get approximately seven to nine hours of quality sleep. Quality sleep is uninterrupted and restorative. You should wake up feeling refreshed and ready to take on the day. Establish good sleep hygiene habits by refraining from screen time before bedtime, establishing a sleep schedule and routine, avoiding naps during the day, avoiding caffeinated beverages in the evening before bedtime, and keeping a quiet and comfortable sleep environment. There is a reason why we spend a majority of our day sleeping – because it is important!
Manage your stress
In today’s world, burnout and stress are more prevalent than ever. However, it is an underrecognized and underappreciated modifiable risk factor for cardiovascular disease. People manage stress in a variety of ways, such as overeating, eating unhealthy foods, smoking, and drinking alcohol. All of these coping mechanisms can increase your risk for a cardiovascular event. Find healthier alternatives and outlets to manage your stress, such as seeking professional counseling, talking with family and friends, practicing meditation and relaxation techniques, or exercising. When the body experiences prolonged periods of stress, individuals are at a higher risk for a cardiovascular event.
As we celebrate World Heart Day today, take the time to pause and find ways to keep your heart healthy to keep the beating going…
- American Heart Association https://www.heart.org/en/
- Getting Started with Physical Activity https://www.cdc.gov/healthyweight/physical_activity/getting_started.html
- Heart Healthy Recipes https://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/company-collaboration/heart-check-certification/heart-check-certified-recipes
- World Heart Federation https://world-heart-federation.org/
- National Heart, Lung, & Blood Institute https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/heart-healthy-living
About the author:
Stephanie Hyslop, PharmD, MBA is a licensed pharmacist who received her PharmD from Purdue University in 2012 and her MBA from Butler University in 2020. Prior to joining Illuminate Health, Stephanie worked in both the retail and hospital settings for nearly 10 years. She has a passion for ensuring patients understand their medication regimens and the importance of taking their medications as directed. She strives to improve overall health outcomes for her patients, and her recent transition into the healthcare tech sector provides an innovative avenue to do such. Stephanie resides in Indianapolis with her husband Alan, son Amos, and beagle-mix Ernie.