8 Tips for Better Heart Health
Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the US. Most heart health problems are preventable, yet we as Americans don’t often take the steps necessary to improve our heart health until we’re already experiencing heart problems or symptoms of heart disease. February is National Heart Health Month, which means it’s the perfect time to evaluate your overall health and the health of your heart. You can make important changes to keep yourself as healthy as possible for the New Year and for many more years to come. Utilize these tips and make better choices for your heart and your health so you can live your best life possible.
Eat a Healthy Diet
Everyone knows that a healthy diet contributes to good health, including heart health, but what exactly does a healthy diet consist of? A lot of people have a lot of different opinions about the healthiest way to eat, particularly for weight loss. But in general, you should try to consume more fruits and vegetables and keep your protein consumption higher than you would probably think, but not too high. Try to eat as many raw and fresh foods as possible while staying away from processed, fried, and high-fat foods. That being said, pay attention to the type of fat in the food you’re consuming. There are healthy fats—things like avocados, fish, and so on. Trans fat is what you really want to avoid, and it can be found in packaged baked goods, margarine, fried food, and many snack foods. Eating this way can help you lower your LDL (bad) cholesterol and raise your HDL (good) cholesterol, and it can help you maintain a healthy body weight. Other lesser thought of healthy snacks include nuts and dark chocolate, both of which offer a variety of health benefits. In addition to eating well, you should minimize your consumption of sugary drinks and increase your water consumption. You can continue to drink alcohol, but do so in moderation to maximize the benefits and minimize the negative effects of alcohol on your heart and overall health.
Get Enough Sleep
Americans are notorious for not sleeping enough. Regardless of how healthy you are otherwise, not getting enough sleep plays a huge role in your heart health. In fact, one study found that adults who got fewer than 6 hours of sleep per night were twice as likely to experience heart problems such as a heart attack or stroke. Not getting enough sleep can impair your judgment, leading to poor food choices, unwise decisions that can impact your health, and more. Additionally, a lack of sleep has been linked to increased blood pressure and inflammation throughout the body, both of which can lead to more chronic and problematic health concerns.
Staying physically active will not only make your heart stronger and healthier, but it will also help you manage your weight better and keep you at a healthier weight. Find a few different forms of exercise that you enjoy and make sure to get in a workout a few times each week. You may take a Zumba or spin class, do some strength training at a local gym, or pick up jogging. It’s a good idea to mix up your exercise routine to keep you from getting bored, and it can serve your body well to do a variety of exercises. Something as simple as taking a walk can lower your stress levels and help you relax, all the while getting your heart rate up and improving your heart health as well. Interval training has been proven to have a lot of health benefits, including burning more calories and training your heart to become stronger and healthier. Even something like taking the stairs at work or parking farther away at the grocery store can have benefits, as every little bit counts. You should also avoid sitting for too long. Working an office job can make this very challenging, but be sure to schedule breaks to take a quick stroll around the building or try using a standing desk if you can. Research has shown that for individuals who sit a great deal during the day, their likelihood of experiencing a cardiovascular event is 147 percent higher than someone who is more active during the day, so it’s incredibly important to prioritize increasing your activity level on a daily basis.
Take Care of Your Teeth
Believe it or not, your oral hygiene and dental health play a huge role in the health of your heart. Gum disease has nearly the same risk factors as heart disease, so if you suffer from gum disease, you’re more likely to experience heart health problems. Additionally, bacteria in the gums of those with poor dental health has been found to travel into the bloodstream, which can lead to inflammation in the blood vessels. This inflammation is directly related to an increased risk of heart disease and stroke.
Know Your Numbers
There are a lot of numbers involved in your health—blood pressure, cholesterol, blood sugar, triglycerides, and more. Knowing what your numbers are for each of those and knowing what they should be will help you understand and manage your overall health much better. Each individual will have target numbers based on their age and gender, and you should aim to stay within those recommended areas at all times. If your doctor draws blood and finds that you are outside a target range in one or more areas, you may be given medication or lifestyle habit recommendations to improve your numbers. Staying on top of managing these numbers will help you avoid surprises at the doctor and will help you stay healthier in general.
Manage Your Stress
Stress is directly related to blood pressure, which is directly related to heart health. You’ve probably heard it said that stress can wreak havoc on your physical health, and that statement couldn’t be more accurate. Having a good outlook on life and practicing positive thinking and optimism can benefit you in huge ways, including by improving your health. Do your best to minimize stress, anger, anxiety, and more, as all of these can increase your risk of having a stroke, heart attack, and heart disease. Find a hobby that helps minimize your stress, such as knitting, walking, gardening, cooking, or reading. Try stretching or taking a few yoga classes to reduce stress levels, and be sure to have fun and laugh as much as possible to keep your stress levels down, as well.
Avoid Smoking & Secondhand Smoke
Smoking is considered one of the primary risk factors involved in heart disease, and it is something that can be almost avoided entirely. Not only should you quit smoking if you are currently a smoker, but everyone should play a part in avoiding secondhand smoke. Smoking impacts just about every area of your health, including your lungs, dental health, heart health, and more. For people who are exposed to secondhand smoke regularly, the risk of developing heart disease increases by about 25%. If you have high blood pressure or high cholesterol, you have an even greater risk of developing heart disease when you’re exposed to secondhand smoke.
Get Regular Wellness Checks
Once you’ve implemented all of the tips above, you’re likely to see an increase in your heart health and overall wellness. The final tip—and this one is a big one—is to stay up-to-date with regular wellness checks with your doctor. This will not only reassure you that all is well with your health, but it will give you more information about how well your body is functioning, including what your numbers are based on blood work, if you’re in a healthy weight range, and if there are any other health concerns that you should be aware of.
The staff at NCHS provides a number of services for both children and adults, including wellness checks. Our doctors are committed to providing you with quality comprehensive care, and they are proud to offer many same-day appointments for illness, injury, and wellness checks. Get in contact with your local NCHS health clinic today to set up your appointment to improve your heart health.