As most people know, the way you live your life makes a big difference in your health. This is especially true of your cardiovascular system. According to recent research, nearly 50 percent of all premature deaths are caused by unhealthy lifestyle choices that increase the risk of high blood pressure, diabetes, heart attack, and stroke. And an earlier study, which looked only at heart disease, found that up to 80 percent of deaths were preventable.In fact, lifestyle is even more important than genetics in determining your risk for heart disease. Traditionally, New Year’s Day is the day we make resolutions for how to improve our lives in the coming year. It’s my hope that you will put beating heart disease on the top of your list. To give you a start on reaching that goal, here are five heart health resolutions you can make to keep your heart healthy in the new year.
1. Reduce Cholesterol Without Drugs
While the word “cholesterol” is closely associated with heart disease, it’s not the case that cholesterol is all bad. We need a certain amount for our bodies to function properly. If too much builds up in the blood, it can lead to heart disease.The good news is that if your cholesterol is too high, even a 10 percent drop reduces heart disease risk by 20 percent to 30 percent. Even better news: Most people can achieve that goal without drugs. A study reported in Time magazine found that participants lowered their cholesterol levels by 14 percent — the equivalent of taking a statin drug — just by adding certain types of food to their diet. The real value of this study is that it tells you the foods to add, rather than subtract, from your diet. Here are the four categories of foods the study tested:
This type of fiber reduces your body’s absorption of cholesterol. Just five to 10 grams of soluble fiber per day decreases your (bad) LDL cholesterol. Sources include barley, oats, and psyllium.
Certain nuts — such as almonds, pecans, walnuts, pistachios, and macadamia nuts — can also reduce LDL cholesterol.
This increasingly popular legume is used to make many food products, including tofu, soy milk, veggie burgers, and other meat substitutes, as well as a protein powder for smoothies. Tofu offers a good protein source that can be substituted for meat or poultry.
These compounds help block your body from absorbing cholesterol. You can get them as supplements. I recommend 2 grams daily.
2. Monitor Your Blood Pressure
High blood pressure is the number one risk factor for both heart attack and stroke. If you have it, you know how important it is to get checked regularly by your doctor and use a home monitor as well.If you’ve never had high blood pressure, you may not realize this disease is called “the silent killer” for a reason. As you age, your blood pressure can creep up, and because there are no early warning signs, you may not realize it.But make no mistake — high blood pressure is a killer. Take my friend Tom, for example. He had lost 50 pounds, which lowered his blood pressure, so he never got it checked again. As a result, he wasn’t aware it was beginning to climb. A few years later, he suffered a fatal aortic dissection; his aorta, which carries blood from the heart to the rest of the body, simply burst, most likely due to high blood pressure. Get your blood pressure checked regularly. If you have high blood pressure, make sure you monitor at home as well, and take your medication as directed.
3. Banish Sugar
We recommend a heart-healthy diet, whether it’s plant-based, the Mediterranean diet, or another diet. Make sure that’s a long-term plan. In the short term, the most important thing you can do is banish sugar from your diet. Sugar is the single greatest factor in obesity, and causes chronic bodily inflammation, which leads to diabetes, heart disease, and some forms of cancer. Here’s what you need to do:
Get rid of the sugar bowl.
Become a label reader.
Recognize “hidden sugar” in ingredients masquerading as fructose, glucose, lactose, maltodextrin, and dextrose.
Give up or minimize alcohol.
Alcoholic drinks — including wine — are metabolized as sugar, and cocktails usually contain even more sugar.
You probably already know that sugar-sweetened soda is bad for your health. You need to be especially vigilant about high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS). This common sweetener in sodas and fruit-flavored drinks is manufactured in a way that turns its glucose into fructose, a type of sugar that is metabolized directly by the liver in an unhealthy process called lipogenesis. That’s why HFCS is being linked to the growing epidemic of nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) in the United States. You may not know that artificially sweetened soda — which was, after all, developed to help dieters avoid the sugary stuff — is also a heart risk. Research published in the October 2020 issue of the Journal of the American College of Cardiology analyzed more than 100,000 adult volunteers in a nutritional study that was launched in 2009. Compared to people who didn’t drink artificially sweetened beverages, high consumers were 20 percent more likely to have cardiovascular disease at any particular time. There was a similar result for high consumers of sugary drinks compared to non-consumers, the researchers found. Prior research had also found that diet soda doesn’t help weight loss. To kick the soda habit (regular or diet), try some berries or bits of fresh fruit infused in ice, or add them to sparkling water.
4. Avoid COVID
Since the start of the pandemic last March, we’ve become aware that the coronavirus poses a serious threat to heart health. A study published in October — conducted by researchers from the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York — found that two-thirds of patients hospitalized with COVID-19 suffered heart abnormalities, and those people were at higher risk of death.To protect yourself, follow precautions including mask wearing, social distancing, and adhering to community regulations regarding gatherings and the use of restaurants, bars, and movie theaters. Remember, being outdoors is always safer than being indoors. But if you live in a cold climate, be careful to keep warm as well. Other things to keep in mind to lower your risk include:
- Chronic diseases, including high blood pressure, diabetes, and heart disease make you vulnerable to serious COVID complications. Make sure those conditions are well-managed.
- Avoid people suffering from flu-like symptoms.
- Know the location of COVID-19 testing sites in your community.
- Make sure you have first-aid supplies on hand, including a thermometer and an oximeter, which is a fingertip device for measuring oxygen levels. Low oxygen can be an important warning sign of COVID-19 infection.
- In addition, be sure to eat a heart-healthy diet, get plenty of sleep, manage stress, and take immunity-boosting supplements to stay as healthy as possible.
5. ‘Snack’ on Exercise
The Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans created by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommend that all adults ages 18 to 64 engage in at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise per week, or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity per week — or an equivalent mix of the two. Brisk walking, running, swimming, biking, and other aerobic exercises are all good options. Just an hour long daily walk, which not only boosts cardiovascular fitness but creates auxiliary blood vessels that could maintain blood flow if you have a heart attack. That amount of exercise can seem daunting, especially if you’re not active. The good news is that even small amounts of activity confer benefits. It has long been recommended that people get 10,000 steps in daily, but a 2019 study in JAMA Internal Medicine found that for older women, as few as 4,400 steps a day was associated with a significantly lower risk of death. While more was better, the benefit leveled off at about 7,500 steps. An earlier study found that small periods of exercise throughout the day boosted longevity and lessened chronic disease. The first result of their research was expected: The more physical activity a person got, the lower his or her risk for mortality. But the second discovery was more notable, says Pedro F. Saint-Maurice, a cancer epidemiologist at the National Cancer Institute, one of the study authors. “If you get to your daily target for the day, it doesn’t matter how you get there,” he noted. “The key message is that every minute counts.”A great way to meet exercise goals is to sneak it in throughout the day — like snacking, but for your body. Here are some ideas for exercise “snacking”:
- Take the stairs.
- Park farther away in a parking lot.
- When watching TV, use commercial breaks as exercise breaks.
- Leave the car at home and walk short distances instead.
- Each time you stand up, do it twice.
As we head into the new year, the important thing to remember is that there’s nothing about these recommendations that is daunting. They are easy things you can do to make sure that your body and your heart are ready to take on 2021. If you have any questions about our heart health resolutions, contact us today at At Home Senior Services!