In a great story on US News Health about heart health, the American Heart Association outlines the most important factors in achieving optimal heart health. Seven steps were outlined – steps which each and every one of us should (literally) take seriously. Let’s be honest , heart health is one scary monster. He has a list of victims that I don’t even want to think about. Fortunately, there are steps we take can to keep our names off of this massive list.
Wouldn’t a person be a fool to take their chances with a monster?
Below are the 7 steps for heart health from the American Heart Association:
- Don’t smoke and Quit if you do. The AHA reports that smoking is considered to be the most important preventable cause of premature death in the United States.
- Achieve and maintain your ideal weight. The AHA recommends aiming for a body mass index less than 25 percent. Clyde Yancy, president of the AHA and medical director at the Baylor Heart and Vascular Institute at Baylor University Medical Center in Dallas points out that the USA is “under assault” from obesity and that being overweight or obese is the “first step toward adult-onset diabetes.” (Click the link to quickly determine your own Body Mass Index – fast, easy, somewhat painless.)
- Exercise several times a week. A routine that includes at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per week—brisk walking, ballroom dancing, or gardening, for example—or 75 minutes per week of vigorous activity, such as jogging, aerobic dancing, or jumping rope, is one of the targets for achieving ideal heart health, according to the AHA. I love how Yancy breaks it down, “If you’re doing nothing, do something, and if you’re doing something, do more.”
- Eat a healthy diet. When it comes to eating more healthy foods, most of us ride a roller coaster. We’ll eat healthy foods for a few days, then slack off for a while. Then we’ll return to a healthy diet. We need to adopt a healthy diet and stick with it! The AHA recommends eating plenty of fruits and vegetables. Further dietary advice: Also, eat unrefined whole-grain foods, which help you feel full faster and improve your cholesterol level. Eating fish at least two times per week may help decrease your risk of death from heart disease by supplying you with omega-3 fatty acids. Select lean meat and skinless poultry, and when it comes to dairy products, buy fat-free, 1 percent fat, and low-fat items. Seek out healthy recipes and get creative in the kitchen. Healthy food is delicious AND can protect you from many evils.
- Control your cholesterol. A total cholesterol level of less than 200 milligrams per deciliter is the goal for ideal heart health.
- Lower your blood pressure. One in three adults has high blood pressure. One in three! Normal blood pressure is less than 120/80, you can find your own reading at a doctor’s office or even in some pharmacies. Doctors, of course, can prescribe medications to help control your blood pressure, but there are also very effective drug-free approaches: eating a nutritious diet, regular exercise, stress management, decreasing alcohol use, staying away from tobacco smoke, and keeping your body at a healthy weight. For more ways to lower blood pressure (including information about the DASH diet) click the link.
- Aim for a fasting blood glucose level less than 100 mg/dL. There’s a reason heart health experts always preach avoiding diabetes with all the fight you have within you: Adults who have diabetes are two to four times as likely to end up with heart disease or stroke as people without diabetes, according to the AHA. Frightening numbers. My mother, a diabetic, died at an early age from heart problems. Simply having diabetes heightens the chance of heart disease and stroke.
Why do we tend to ignore things until it’s too late? Think about it. Each winter, we don’t give the common cold a single thought until the first sniffle – THEN we load up on Vitamin C, frequent hand-washing, chicken soup, and so on. Even worse, we don’t give diabetes, heart disease, cancer, or any other “health monsters” much thought until we’re sitting across from a serious-faced doctor telling us things we never thought we’d hear.
Let’s vow to begin doing the things we know we should do, eating the things we know we should eat, and avoiding the things we know we should avoid. Let’s promise ourselves to…
- Get at least 30 minutes of activity daily – gardening, walking, yard work, aerobics, intense house cleaning…
- Eat more fruits and more vegetables. Here’s a trick I’ve found: If you replace things you know you shouldn’t eat with things you know you should eat, you’re giving your health twice the benefit. Replace fries with salad, soft drinks with green tea (or black tea – studies show that it’s actually as healthy as green tea… tons of antioxidants), have fruit as dessert, eat vegetable soup instead of pasta, etc.
- Not put anything into our bodies that we wouldn’t recommend to one of our children.
- Get plenty of rest and relaxation.
- Find a way to cope with stress. Stress wears a person down and makes them more susceptible to illness. Refuse to give it the chance.
Let’s make the vow to take better care of our health. and let’s do it as though our lives depend on it.