What do you need to do to make your body, especially your heart, healthy? What foods should you eat? How much exercise do you really need?
You make hundreds of small choices every day that impact your health, but do they help or hurt your heart?
Making healthy choices can initially be challenging, but it doesn’t have to be overwhelming. The more you do to promote your health, the better you will feel and the easier it will be to continue. February is American Heart Month, a perfect time to examine your heart health and commit to a healthier you. Follow these guidelines to keep your heart healthy and strong:
Heart healthy: Make sure you add heart-healthy foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains and healthy proteins to your diet. Proteins can come from vegetables, beans or from nuts and non-fat dairy. If you wish to eat meat, please choose fish or poultry. Red meat contains cholesterol, which narrows your blood vessels, including those that supply blood to your heart, and should be limited to one or two times per month. You don’t have to eat meat to be strong, as some of the best athletes who I know are vegetarian.
Fruits such as blueberries and strawberries are filled with natural antioxidants that can help keep your arteries open. Eating an overall balanced diet that emphasizes fruits, vegetables, cereal and grain products can also help prevent the onset of heart disease.
Get moving: Brisk walking, swimming or cycling are especially good for the heart, but choose any activity you enjoy. Start at your comfort level, and build up gradually. Exercise helps increase blood circulation, reduces stress and protects your heart. Participating in regular exercise – 30 minutes on most days – can also help you stay at a healthy weight, prevent or control illness, sleep better, avoid falls and look and feel your best.
Relax: Stress, anger, anxiety and depression may keep your blood pressure high and increase your risk for heart attack, stroke, and other illnesses. Try exercise or relaxation techniques (such as yoga or meditation) to help reduce stress. And be sure to make time for your friends and social contacts.
Become a quitter: Smoking kills by causing heart attacks, strokes and cancer. If you smoke, join a support group to help you quit and talk to your doctor about medications that can help increase your chances of kicking the habit. If you don’t smoke, be sure to also avoid second-hand smoke to help protect your heart, lungs and blood vessels.
Maintain a healthy weight: Extra weight increases your risk for heart disease. If you are overweight, losing as little as 10 pounds can make a difference and lower your risk of heart problems. Get to your healthy weight and stay there by eating right and keeping active. Replace sugary drinks with water.
For more information about ways to improve your heart heath, talk with your doctor or visit www.kp.org/heart.
Gerald Bourne, MD, Cardiology from Kaiser Permanente, which is a partner of Solano Coalition for Better Health.