February is National Heart Health Month! So, we’ve decided to list some tips to improve your heart health.I’m sure you’ve heard the saying, "You’re not getting any younger." But it turns out you can get younger, at least, you can when it comes to your heart health.
Heart age is based on risk factors you can change (like the ones listed below) and those you can't (like your age, gender, and family history). A 2015 CDC study found that 70% of Americans have heart ages older than their actual age: men by 7.8 years and women by 5.4 years, on average.
Use this tool created by the CDC to determine your "heart age".
Luckily, it’s never too late to turn back the clock on your heart health, the CDC says. And knowing your heart age, and watching it come down over time, may be the motivation you need to make some of these important changes.
- Get that beauty rest. It’s not only important to keep you looking fabulous, but in one study, young and middle-age adults who slept 7 hours a night had less calcium in their arteries (an early sign of heart disease) than those who slept 5 hours or less or those who slept 9 hours or more. According to another study by the American Heart Association, poor sleep quality is linked to an increased risk of high blood pressure, a potential cause of heart disease.
- Watch your blood pressure. The extra force from having high blood pressure can cause damage to your artery walls and create scar tissue, making it more difficult for blood and oxygen to get to and from the heart. The heart has to pump harder and gets worn out faster. If it can't get enough oxygen, parts can start to die.
- Cut back on salt, limit alcohol to no more than one to two drinks a day, manage your stress, and get regular exercise, too. If these changes alone don't help, your doctor might recommend you also take medication.
- Get your blood pressure checked at least once every 2 years, or more often if it is already high.
- Cut down on saturated fats. Eating a lot of foods that are high in saturated fat can increase the level of cholesterol in your blood. Too much “bad” cholesterol can clog the heart and arteries with harmful plaque.
- “Bad” cholesterol mostly comes from saturated and trans fats, found in red meat, full-fat dairy products, and fried or processed foods. So cut back on these products and cut out trans fats completely (check ingredients lists for anything that says “hydrogenated” or “partially hydrogenated” -- those are trans fats).
- Adults should get a cholesterol blood test at least every 5 years. Your doctor should consider your other risk factors for heart disease when deciding what your goals should be.
- Keep that diabetes away. There’s a close connection between diabetes and heart disease. Having diabetes actually doubles your risk for heart attack or stroke. Over time, high blood sugar damages arteries and puts you at risk for heart disease. Your doctor should test your blood sugar if you are 45 or older, if you are pregnant, or if you're overweight and have other risk factors for diabetes.
- If you have diabetes, work with your doctor on your lifestyle (diet and exercise) and any medicine that you may need. If you have borderline high blood sugar, also called prediabetes, take action now to turn things around.
- One simple swap is to trade processed carbs (like white rice) for fiber-rich whole grains (like brown rice). In one study, that simple swap slashed diabetes risk by 36%.
- Find activities that don’t make you hate moving around. It’s recommended that you should get at least 150 minutes a week (30 minutes a day, 5 days a week) of moderate exercise, meaning any activity that gets you moving around and breaking a slight sweat. But really, anything is better than nothing.
- If you’re one of the many people who hate going to, or don’t have access to a gym, exercise doesn’t have to mean hitting the gym on the reg. Explore activities that get you moving but are fun as well! Things like walking, dancing in your living room, bowling and even cleaning the house can count as exercise as long as you’re getting a little out of breath when you’re doing them.
- If you need some tips on how to get moving and exercise, check out our five on-the-go exercises here.
- Have more fruit and less fruit juice. Your heart works best when it runs on clean fuel. That means lots of whole, plant-based foods (like fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, legumes), as well as whole grains (like brown rice and other unrefined carbs) and fewer refined or processed foods (like white bread, pasta, crackers, and cookies).
- One of the fastest ways to clean up your diet is to cut out sugary beverages like soda and fruit juice, which lacks the fiber that’s in actual fruit.
- Keep a healthy weight. Carrying excess weight means that your heart must work harder, and this often leads to high blood pressure—a major cause of heart disease. Achieving a healthy body weight is key to reducing your risk of heart disease.
- You can lose weight by taking in fewer calories each day than you burn off, which usually means a combination of eating less food (or healthier foods) and getting more exercise.
- Structured diets or calorie-counting programs and smartphone apps can help, "but there is no one best plan that will work for everyone," Lloyd-Jones says. "Find the one that works with your life and that you're able to sustain long-term."
- Lose the cigarettes. If you're a smoker, quit. It's the single best thing you can do for your heart health. Smoking is one of the main causes of coronary heart disease. A year after giving up, your risk of a heart attack falls to about half that of a smoker. Check out our quitting smoking blog series, to help you get jump started on quitting.
- Get a stress-busting hobby. You can't avoid stress entirely. It’s part of a normal life. But you can choose how you deal with it.
- Stress happens! The problem is not the circumstances that cause stress as much as how we respond. When we’re under pressure, our body ramps up adrenaline, which can overwork our hearts. One way to help is to hop on the treadmill or roll out your yoga mat. Exercise trains your body how to handle stress, Montgomery says.
- If stress gets to be too much, talk to someone, whether it’s a trusted friend or a professional counselor.
If you need help tracking your progress, quitting smoking, or are just wanting to discuss your risk factors with someone, request for an appointment with Apicha CHC by clicking here!