This is the second installment of our “Be A Better You” series, which provides in-depth healthy living tips on the first Friday of each month. This series will run through 2017. It’s like a New Year Resolution, but better!
Change is not easy for many people. Whether you thrive in a comfortable environment, have a fear of the unknown, or get anxious about trying new things, avoiding change in order to avoid these unpleasant feelings can end up having dire consequences. This is especially true when it comes to heart health.
Many people have major misconceptions about making life changes that act as preventions for heart disease; they think that everything in their life has to change in order to successfully improve their heart health. But, quite to the contrary, small changes also provide ways to improve heart health.
“Of course we encourage patients with cardiovascular issues to lower their sugar and sodium intake, quit smoking and start exercising,” says Dr. Jeffrey Wuhl, a cardiologist at Bryn Mawr Medical Specialists Association-Lankenau Cardiology Group. “But small changes are better than none. Making any effort to eat better, smoke less and exercise more is always better than doing nothing.”
Since February is Heart Health Month, here are some heart health tips--all small changes--that can help serve as preventions for heart disease:
Trade in Dessert For Fruit
Instead of reaching for ice cream after dinner, grab some fruit when you have a sweet craving. Strawberries, pineapple, pears and mangoes are a great source of all-natural sweetness. “Natural sugars are generally better than added sugar,” says Dr. Wuhl.
Take Advantage of Your Slow Cooker
You don’t have to be a gourmet chef to cook at home, especially if you have a slow cooker. You can use it to trade in a breakfast of bacon egg and cheese for apple cinnamon oatmeal, which is filled with fiber and can help keep cholesterol down.
Cut Out Softdrinks and Juice
Both the additional calories and the added sugars in both soda and juice can have a negative impact on your waistline and add to heart disease risk factors. Even diet soda has been shown to impact health negatively. Dr. Wuhl recommends stopping a soda habit altogether if possible, but limiting your intake to one or two per week can also be effective in preventing heart disease.
Asked For Baked Instead of Fried
“Making an effort to avoid fried foods will help to prevent cardiovascular problems down the road,” says Dr. Wuhl. With that in mind, choosing to order baked hot wings on game day instead of fried wings is one of the ways to improve heart health.
Walk For 10 Minutes, 3 Times Per Day
If you don’t have a gym habit already, it can be overwhelming to begin, so start small instead. “At least 30 minutes of exercise--even just walking--every day, at least 5 days a week can have a big impact,” Dr. Wuhl tells us.
Take The Stairs
In the same vain of getting more exercise, choosing to take the stairs whenever you can will be a small change that can add up to big results. Since taking the stairs can get the heart and lungs working overtime, the cardiovascular benefits can serve as the equivalent of aerobic exercise.
Regularly Check Your Blood Pressure
One of Dr. Wuhl’s heart health tips for those who are already at risk of cardiovascular disease is setting up regular appointments to have your blood pressure checked every few months. “If you don’t have as much time between appointments, it’s much easier to detect--and correct--problems that might arise.” Dr. Wuhl also suggests that if you have high blood pressure or even just have risk factors for heart disease, “you should buy a blood pressure cuff to have at home and keep a ‘diary’ of blood pressure readings that you can bring with you to doctor visits.”
Practice Deep Breathing
Anxiety and stress are major contributors to high blood pressure, and finding positive ways to deal with them can also have positive effects on your heart. While it might not be realistic to start a twice-daily meditation practice, implementing deep breathing when you feel stressors coming on can have a calming effect on you and your heart.
Of course, there is one big lifestyle change that Dr. Wuhl highly recommends to all of his patients and that is to stop smoking. Given that heart disease is currently the number one cause of death in the United States, quitting a smoking habit is one of the most effective preventions for heart disease.