15 Healthy Heart Hacks
Q. What is the leading cause of death in both men and women? (Hint: it’s not cancer.)
A. Heart disease. It’s the cause of 1 in every 4 deaths in the United States. (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)
That’s why, for American Heart Month this February, we’re sharing our list of 15 heart health hacks, many of which you can start doing TODAY.
- Check your blood pressure. Like, right now, maybe. And regularly!
Why? High blood pressure stresses out your heart, putting you at risk for heart disease. This is one of the reasons we like to see you once a year for a physical, even if you’re super healthy!
- Drink about it.
A little alcohol is ok, even good for you. A lot is never good. (But then, you already knew that.) A general rule is never more than 2 drinks per day. Less for women.
Why? Too much alcohol acutely affects your blood pressure and, in the long-term, your weight which creates undue strain on your heart.
- Are you diabetic? Find out.
Millions of Americans don’t even know that they have diabetes. Millions.
Why? In addition to the other strains diabetes puts on your health, high blood sugar damages your heart’s arteries. Diabetes is treatable; we can help.
- Trans Fat = 0 g
This isn’t like the alcohol rule where a little can be good. Check the nutritional label on your food. Make sure Trans fat = 0 grams.
Why? Trans fats raise your bad cholesterol and lower your good cholesterol. At the same time!!!
There are other helpful adjustments to the types of fat you’re consuming. If you’re a patient of ours, take one of our Healthy Living courses or talk to your primary care provider for more information.
- Brush and Floss.
“Wait, I thought this was a heart health article!”
Why? Turns out, there’s evidence that suggests that your dental health and your cardiac health are related. The jury is still out on why gum disease and heart disease seem to be related. Either way, it’s a good idea anyway to brush and floss daily.
- Sleep Better.
Yeah, it can be hard when you’re busy. But not sleeping well is hurting your heart. Seven hours is a good target for most people.
Why? There are physical and behavioral effects of not getting enough sleep, including higher blood pressure (see #1 for more on that), inflammation, low mood and low motivation.
- Don’t smoke.
This shouldn’t be news to anyone. Don’t start, and if you’re currently a smoker and would like to quit, schedule an appointment. We can help!
- Cut out the soda, too.
Ok, ok … you don’t have to cut out soda completely. But drink in moderation.
Why? You are drinking your calories and sugar. That’s what food is for. Drinking soda simply has no nutritional benefit and can lead to excess weight which puts undue strain on your heart. And that’s not even to speak of what the caffeine does to your blood pressure …
- Put that pedometer to use!
One of the best things you can do for your heart and your overall health is getting daily exercise. That doesn’t mean that you have to join a gym and find an hour to spend on the treadmill. Just 20 to 30 minutes at least 5 days a week of any aerobic activity, like walking or climbing stairs, can significantly reduce your risk for heart disease.
Why? Your heart is a muscle, too! Maybe the most important muscle in your body. It’s super important to keep it in shape.
- Get out from behind the desk.
Studies are finding that sitting for long periods of time can be as detrimental to your health as any of the other hazards we’ve already listed. If you sit at work, make sure to get up and take a few shorts walks during your day.
Why? After finding a strong connection between sitting too much and heart disease, researchers went into high gear trying to understand why. Possibilities include: blood doesn’t flow as well, sitting too much causes muscles to burn less fat, even increased appetite. In any event, it’s a good idea to get up and take a short walk around the office at regular intervals. Get yourself a standing desk if you’re able.
- Laugh more.
Sound silly? You might be surprised to know that studies show that people who are able to laugh a little at life’s daily irritations showed fewer instances of heart disease than the folks who let the daily grind get to them.
Why? The jury is still out on this one too. But like brushing and flossing, it sure can’t be a bad thing.
- Choose Fruits.
And vegetables. Fresh ones. (Not French fried or dripping in syrup!) A good rule is to try and incorporate a fresh fruit or vegetable into every meal. Wash and prepare some and keep them in your fridge for snacking. Or pack them with your lunch!
Why? Fresh fruits and vegetables are high in fiber and minerals that can keep your heart and arteries squeaky clean!
- Portion Patrol
How much you eat is almost as important as what you eat, and, unfortunately, many of us overeat regularly. Restaurant portions? They’re almost always way more than anyone needs in one meal.
Knowing the right portion takes practice, but there are some helpful tricks that can help. For example, using smaller dishes, drinking a glass of water before your meal, avoid going back for seconds, and using veggies as filler are useful tools for controlling how much you consume.
Why? This actually has a lot to do with maintaining a healthy weight. Carrying excess weight puts undue strain on your heart, increasing your risk of heart disease.
- Take a 5-minute mind break.
Close your eyes. Count to 4 while breathing in evenly. Then breathe out evenly for 4 seconds. Do this for 5 minutes and focus on the even breathing instead of the thoughts that might be trying to invade this time you’ve taken specifically for intentional breathing.
Why? There is perhaps more science behind meditation and heart health than some of the other factors discussed above. It literally dilates your blood vessels, decreases cortisol and increases dopamine and oxytocin to improve blood pressure. When practiced regularly, meditation can improve your reaction to daily stressors, in all a significant help to your heart function. Which leads us to …
- Love more.
It’s what your heart is for, after all!
But seriously, research suggests that people who make time for the hobbies and people they love have lower instances of heart disease. It’s related to how you cope with stress, your support network and how biologically balanced you are. In fact, our own Dr. Herendira Valdez wrote a blog series detailing the science behind the mind-body connection.
Call us at 602-523-9312 or use the button below to schedule an appointment if you’d like help with any of this.
Happy Heart Month!