From My Heart to You: Heart Disease Still the Number One Killer in the U.S. Please consider renewing your commitment to heart health this Heart Month and beyond. go.
Knowing that heart disease affects so many people in America, I’m sure many of you can relate to my story. My father had a heart attack when I was 3 years old and died about 10 years later. A cute uncle followed, and then another uncle (my father’s cousin). My mother had a heart attack at the age of 80, which was the beginning of her declining health. Then recently, I was faced with heart arrhythmia myself. I am fortunate to have received excellent care at the Cleveland Clinic where ablation surgery has cured my symptoms – but I am still careful to follow a healthy lifestyle to avoid future complications.
I’m hitting a milestone birthday this month, and my health is at the center of my thoughts. Granted I can’t do anything about genetics or age based risk, but there is a lot I can do! Just because I’m a registered dietitian, doesn’t mean I’m immune to health problems – or bad habits for that matter! The last few years have been difficult between caring for our elderly parents and recovering from my own problems. But now that things have calmed down a bit, I have promised to improve my heart. For me, it’s not all about losing weight; it’s about being healthy and having more energy to do the things I want to do. I’ve already done most of the steps listed below, and now I’m adding more of them into my routine. The steps are not specific. Don’t worry about making changes all the time – just pick a step that you believe you can handle, and go from there.
Some highlights: If you smoke, stop! Find a good job for smoking. Know your numbers: Control your weight, cholesterol, LDL, as well as blood pressure and blood glucose if you have diabetes. Find a way to stay calm. Follow the diet plan, and follow the doctor’s orders for the treatment. Some of the steps below can help you get started.
Step 1: Keep your body active! Exercise lowers blood pressure, strengthens your heart, helps maintain muscle tone, burns calories, and makes you feel good! Walking is one of the easiest exercises to fit into your day. Experts recommend a minimum of 10,000 steps a day (equivalent to 5 miles) – and yes, it is possible to fit this into a busy schedule. If you are just starting out, walk for at least 10 minutes at a time. Work your way up to at least 60 minutes of exercise on most days to meet the recommendations from the Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA).
Before you change your routine, talk to your doctor. When you get the OK, use a fitness tracker or pedometer to count the steps you currently take per day to use as your starting point. I have worn a pedometer or Fitbit for over 10 years to help me stay on target. I love the feature on my Fitbit that reminds me to take at least 250 steps every hour! I don’t sit at my computer working for hours on end without moving.
Step 2: Cut back on high-calorie drinks. Do you drink sugary drinks every day? Just 8 ounces of soda usually packs 100 calories, and most people don’t stop at 8 ounces. An extra 100 calories a day adds up to 3500 extra calories in 5 weeks – which can mean extra weight – or 10 extra pounds in a year!
What about alcohol? Does a “healthy” 100 calorie daily glass of wine turn into 2 or more glasses a day? Alcohol calories are lost quickly, and they can reduce your decision to control your food.
Cut out soft drinks and alcohol for at least 30 days to break the habit. Replace them with non-sweetened beverages such as water, alcohol, juice (lemon, lime, cucumber or fruit), hot tea or iced water.
Step 3: Cut out saturated fat. Animal fats are found in meat, poultry, whole-fat foods (milk, cheese, sour cream, yogurt, etc.), salad dressing, and fried foods. saturated fat, which has been linked to heart disease. Reduce portions, trim visible fat from meat, remove skin from chicken, prepare meals using low-fat cooking methods (baking, broiling, roasting), and read nutrition labels. that contain polyunsaturated or monounsaturated fats to be healthy. Skim or 1% milk, fat-free cheese and sour cream, fat-free yogurt, and other low-fat dairy options – and many taste great!
Ready-to-use cans of healthy oils found at the grocery store can help control the amount of oil you use. Choose healthy corn, safflower or olive oil to spray food so you can bake instead of frying or brushing food with oil.
Step 4: Eat your vegetables and fruits! Eat a variety of colors: green, red, orange, yellow vegetables and fruits contain important nutrients and fiber for good health. These foods contain vitamins C, A, potassium, antioxidants, phytochemicals; and always low in fat and sodium.
Fill at least half of your plate with vegetables, and reach for fresh fruit for dessert or a snack.
Step 5: Reduce the sugar. I’ve always had a sweet tooth, but I’ve cut out sweets to stay healthy and control my weight. Most of us eat more sugar than we realize. It is found in juices, jelly, jams, cookies, candies, cakes, cookies, soda pop, cereals, snacks, condiments, and many other foods. .
Start with sources of sugar and switch to sugary foods like fruit (fresh, canned without syrup, frozen without sugar, or dried – go slowly here because the this is the calorie content). And don’t think that switching to raw sugar, honey or agave syrup is better – it’s still simple sugar.
Read labels: find the number of sugars in a serving and choose something with less sugar. Another caveat: some studies show that even sugary foods and drinks can create cravings for sweets.
Step 6: Cut sodium and increase potassium. Almost 1 in 3 American adults has high blood pressure, which is a major risk factor for heart disease, stroke, heart failure, and kidney disease. A diet high in sodium, low in potassium is linked to high blood pressure. Sodium is abundant in our diet. Many years ago it was used to preserve food, but today we have a taste for it and think low-sodium food is bland. To add some zip to your diet, replace the salt and the excess salt with spicy ingredients such as hot peppers or jalapeno peppers (also packed with vitamins and antioxidants), and your favorite spices without salt.
Be sure to read labels and avoid foods and drinks that are high in sodium.
Increasing the amount of potassium in your diet can help lower blood pressure. Bananas, oranges, potatoes with skins, and low-sodium V-8 juice are some of my favorite high-potassium (low-sodium) foods.
Step 7: Switch to whole grains. Focus on whole grains for the beneficial nutrients that can lower cholesterol and improve health. Whole grains are much tastier than refined white breads, cereals, pastas, and rice.
Some of my favorite grains include steel cut oats, kamut and quinoa. I eat my whole grains in the crock pot, Instant Pot or crock pot so I don’t have to monitor the cooking which usually takes 45-50 minutes on the stove. Many whole grains can be used to make a simple, tasty salad or can be eaten as a hot breakfast with fruits and nuts.
For a quick and easy whole grain hot meal, I like old oats cooked for 2 minutes in the microwave and it’s ready to eat. Top it with some dried cranberries and walnuts for added sweetness and texture. It’s quick and easy, cheap, tasty, filling – and healthy too!
Step 8: Reduce stress by taking time for yourself. With busy schedules, it’s important to take time out each day to rest, rejuvenate, and recharge! Walking is my time to relax, get away from the daily stress and enjoy some fresh air, music, or time to talk with friends and family. Choose something every day that allows you to take time for yourself: yoga, meditation, a hot bath, or anything that helps you recover. Allow yourself at least 10-15 minutes a day – Yes, you can!
Step 9: Include some stretching and strength training. Strength training is important for maintaining muscle mass, strength, and balance as we age. Stretching helps us avoid injury and reduce pain. Strengthening your core will protect you from back pain and injury, improve posture and help you look thinner – and who doesn’t want that?
Step 10: Believe you can do it. It takes time to develop new healthy habits. Try something that you believe you can succeed with, and move forward from there. The most important thing is to believe that you can change which becomes a commitment to your health.
Welcome to the future of heart health!
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