Heart Health Month
Welcome to 29 Days of Heart Health
This February marks not only American Heart Month, but another leap year. That means an extra day to enjoy quality time with family and friends. An extra day to chase after your 2020 goals. And an extra day to focus on your heart health. Because, while leap year adds an extra day to the calendar, staying focused on maintaining good heart health can help add years to your life. So, welcome to the 29 Days of Heart Health.
Each day in February, we’ll be posting a short article featuring recipes, tips, exercise ideas and important information to know to help you stay heart smart. We’re kicking things off today with a recipe for Roasted Salmon with Pesto Vegetables. It’s a delicious, simple recipe that’s packed with heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids. In fact, the American Heart Association advises that eating salmon and other omega-3-rich foods twice a week can have benefits that even extend beyond your heart. Bon Appetit!
Roasted Salmon with Pesto Vegetables
2 bell peppers, thinly sliced
1 small red onion, thinly sliced
2 tbsp. olive oil
4 6-oz skinless salmon fillets
¼ cup pesto
Heat oven to 450°F. On a rimmed baking sheet, toss the peppers and onion with the olive oil. Nestle salmon fillets in the mixture. Season with ¾ tsp salt and ¼ tsp black pepper. Roast until the salmon is opaque throughout and the vegetables are tender, eight to 10 minutes. Serve topped with the pesto.
30 Minutes a Day Can Help Keep Heart Disease Away
Did you know that exercising as little as 30 minutes each day can improve your heart health and quality of life? It can even be simple activities that are easier to incorporate into your schedule, like taking your dog for a jog, tossing a ball with your kids, dancing with friends or walking. According to the American Heart Association, walking is the simplest positive change you can make to improve your heart health. Here’s why:
Studies have shown that for every hour of walking, you may increase your life expectancy by two hours.
Regular walking can improve your cholesterol, lower blood pressure, increase your energy and stamina and prevent weight gain.
Walking is low-risk, easy to begin and can be done anywhere, anytime.
You can adapt walking to your mood – go it alone, take your pup or meet up with a friend.
Schedule too crazy? Try breaking up your 30 minutes into three, 10-minute walk breaks throughout your day. These can be done before work, during lunch or after dinner – whatever works for you and is easy to maintain.
So, let’s get up and start moving! Your heart will thank you.
Not All Symptoms Are Obvious: Overlooked Symptoms to Watch
We’ve all seen when heart attacks happen in the movies. A character is walking along when, suddenly, they grab their chest – wincing with pain – and immediately tell someone, “Call 911! I’m having a heart attack!”
While that certainly does happen, the reality is that heart attacks can strike much more subtly – even happening to someone who otherwise might feel or seem completely healthy. Below are a few common – and often overlooked – signs that a heart attack may be approaching. If you have concerns about experiencing these symptoms, talk to your provider and ask questions about your risk factors so you can get a pulse on your heart health.
Indigestion. For some of us, indigestion is an unfortunate everyday occurrence. But for others who may not have a history of indigestion, it can be a sign that a heart attack is approaching. According to research by the National Institutes of Health, this can be especially true for women. Stay alert for indigestion that is combined with jaw, chest or back pain, anxiety or excessive sweating.
Discomfort in the Stomach, Neck or Jaw. If you experience neck or jaw pain not related to an injury, or stomach pain that you can’t pinpoint, it could be your body’s way of telling you that your heart needs attention. These symptoms may be combined with generalized weakness or lack of energy.
Fatigue. Everyone feels fatigue from time to time. But if the fatigue doesn’t “feel right,” it could be a warning sign of heart trouble. Often, the fatigue doesn’t feel like anything you may have experienced before. There can be a generalized weakness associated with it, combined with other symptoms like shortness of breath. If you’re concerned, don’t ignore the symptoms. Get checked out. Even if you’re just feeling weaker than normal, it may be worth giving your provider a call to see what’s going on.
Heart Disease 101: Warning Signs for Women
As the number one killer of men and women in the U.S., you might think that gender doesn’t matter when it comes to heart disease. But it does. In fact, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about one in 16 women age 20 and older have coronary heart disease, while only approximately half of women recognize that heart disease is women’s number one killer. Additionally, women can sometimes experience heart attack symptoms differently from men.
The primary signs and symptoms for men and women are chest discomfort (uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness or pain); discomfort in other areas of the upper body like one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw or stomach; shortness of breath, with or without chest discomfort; and other signs like cold sweat, nausea or lightheadedness.
As with men, the most common symptom for women is chest pain or discomfort. But women are somewhat more likely to experience some of the other common – and more subtle – symptoms, particularly shortness of breath, unusual fatigue, nausea/vomiting and back or jaw pain, sometimes without any obvious chest discomfort.
Particularly alarming is that it isn’t just heavy smokers, stressed out or overweight women who fall victim to heart attack. Otherwise healthy women can also suffer a heart attack. And it’s these women who often write the condition off as something else – the flu or an unusually stressful period in their life – delaying potentially life-saving care.
Talk with your primary care provider about your risk factors and the preventive care options that are right for you.
Give Your Kitchen Pantry Some Love
Eating smart for your heart starts at home. But how do you know what to stock up on to keep your meals heart-healthy? We’ve compiled a guide to help you plan your next grocery trip to stock up on nutritious foods that can help you and your family stay healthy – and satisfied at the dinner table.
10 Pantry Essentials
Dinner starters: Dried beans, low-salt canned items like beans, tuna and salmon
Rolled, steel-cut or Irish oats
Brown rice, wild rice and/or brown basmati rice
Whole wheat pastas
Reduced-sodium chicken, beef and vegetable broths
Plain popcorn or light (98% fat -free) microwave popcorn
Reduced sodium canned diced tomatoes, whole tomatoes and tomato sauce
Assorted raw nuts and seeds (almonds, walnuts, peanuts, sunflower seeds)
Dried herbs and spices
10 Fridge and Freezer Essentials
Fresh seasonal fruits
Fresh colorful veggies
Fresh green veggies
Milk alternatives like soy or almond milk
Egg whites or egg substitutes
Low-fat yogurt, sour cream and cottage cheese
Lean ground turkey or lean ground beef (the less marbling, the lower the fat content)
Assorted fish like salmon, tuna, tilapia, etc.
Skinless chicken or turkey
Know Your Numbers
One step in taking an active role in your health to help ensure a healthy life is by knowing specific numbers that play an important role for your heart:
Is your blood pressure at normal levels? One in three U.S. adults has high blood pressure, which can lead to heart disease. Normal range for blood pressure should be below 120/80. If your numbers are at 120-129/less than 80, your blood pressure would be considered “elevated.” Hypertension – or high blood pressure – occurs at levels of 130-139/80-89.
How’s your cholesterol? Your healthcare provider measures three different facets of your cholesterol – HDL (the “good” kind), LDL (the “bad” kind) and triglycerides (fat used to store excess energy from the foods you eat). Your goal should be to have the following healthy levels:
Total cholesterol: less than 200
HDL (good): 50 or higher for women, 40 or higher for men
LDL (bad): Less than 100
Triglycerides: Less than 150
Waist size is an important predictor of heart health complications. At higher risk for heart disease and type 2 diabetes are women with waist sizes greater than 35 inches and men with waists greater than 40 inches, according to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute.
When you meet with your provider, make sure you understand what these numbers mean for your health and what – if any – changes you might need to incorporate into your lifestyle to get them in a healthy range.
Namaste Healthy: The Heart Benefits of Yoga
Manage blood pressure. Control cholesterol. Reduce blood sugar. Get active. Eat better. Lose weight. Stop smoking. There’s a reason the most talked about ways to improve your heart health also make up the American Heart Association’s (AHA) “Simple 7,” a list of seven lifestyle strategies that can help you lower your risk for heart disease: they work!
But there’s even another great way to protect your heart: managing stress. And while there are many ways to accomplish that feat, there’s one in particular that’s been helping people for centuries: yoga. Comprising a series of stretches and poses, coordinated with deep breathing and meditation, yoga is a practice that – according to many national experts, including the AHA – reaps widespread benefits.
Yoga can lower blood pressure. Yoga’s calming effect is said to produce benefits as soon as people begin practicing, including lowering blood pressure and leaving you feeling more relaxed after a session. In fact, after just 12 weeks, you may see dramatic improvements in your blood pressure and experience a decrease in cholesterol levels.
Yoga can improve flexibility and exercise performance. After those initial 12 weeks of regular yoga, you may see dramatic improvements in your ability to exercise.
Yoga helps with healing after heart disease. The aftermath of a serious heart condition can leave someone with high levels of emotional stress. Yoga has been shown to help patients overcome depression and grief and improve energy and mood.
Before you grab your mat and get started, be sure and speak with your provider, especially if you are already living with a heart condition or have previously suffered from heart disease.
An Egg White a Day…
If you’re an egg lover, you may scoff at eating just the whites. Not so fast. If you’re open to a change, utilizing just the whites of the egg every now and then can benefit your heart, particularly if cholesterol is a concern. Egg whites are low in calories, high in protein and have no cholesterol. This egg white omelet is a great way to give them a try.
Egg White Omelet
4 tsp extra virgin olive oil
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 10-oz pkg frozen chopped spinach, thawed (with all excess water squeezed out)
4 plum tomatoes, finely chopped (about 1 ½ cups)
Freshly ground black pepper
12 egg whites
2 tbsp water
Nonstick cooking spray
In a skillet or pan, heat oil over medium heat. Add the onion and a pinch of salt and cook for 3 to 5 minutes or until onion is softened. Add the spinach, cook and stir until hot. Add the tomatoes and pepper to taste and cook and stir for 1 minute. Remove from heat, cover and keep warm.
In a medium bowl, whisk the egg whites, water and a pinch of salt until frothy.
Lightly coat a medium nonstick skillet or omelet pan with cooking spray and heat skillet over medium heat. Add one-fourth of the egg white mixture, swirling to evenly cover the bottom of the pan. Cook for 1 ½ to 2 minutes or until set, using a rubber scraper to lift eggs up occasionally, letting runny egg flow underneath.
Spoon one-fourth of the spinach mixture onto half of the omelet, fold over and slide onto a plate. Repeat with remaining egg whites and spinach mixture to create four omelets.
Workplace Workouts: Easy Ways to Make Your Day More Active
From commuting to work and spending hours sitting behind a computer to watching TV or surfing the internet, there’s no doubt that we simply sit too much. The good news is that there are some easy ways to combat the sedentary lifestyle that can lead to a greater risk of heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and other conditions, and make your day more active:
Stand up to take phone calls.
Hold standing meetings.
Hold walking meetings.
Set a timer to remind you to stand up and stretch or take a walk every hour.
Take a 30-minute walk during your lunch hour.
Take the stairs instead of the elevator.
Park a little farther away from the front door.
Consider walking or biking to work, if feasible.
The easiest way to start is to pick one or two of these and add them to your daily routine. Then when you’ve turned your new behaviors into a habit, add another. Over time, small changes can add up to big results when it comes to your health.
More Numbers and a Major Risk Factor to Know
When it comes to heart health, you might hear your provider talk about your “numbers” – specifics about your health that play an important role in your heart health and determining your risk for heart disease. We’ve already talked about blood pressure, cholesterol and waist size, but there are other numbers that play a part, too.
Like it sounds, blood sugar is the amount of sugar (glucose) in your blood. Healthy blood sugar levels are lower than 100 mg/dl. For your provider to measure your blood sugar, you may need to fast prior to your appointment. Scheduling your appointment first thing in the morning makes your fasting more manageable.
Your body mass index (BMI) gives you a sense of whether you are at a healthy weight, given your age, gender, height and frame. A BMI between 18.6 and 24.9 is generally considered healthy.
Know your numbers and speak with your provider about how you can maintain healthy levels to keep your heart in great shape for the long run.
Put it Out
Did you know that smoking is the leading cause of preventable death? It is a significant contributor to disease and disability in nearly every organ of our bodies – including our hearts – and can increase your risk for heart disease and stroke. Smoking cessation is one of the best things you can do for your health. If you’re a smoker and you’ve tried to quit before, you probably know it’s not easy. Talk with your provider about a plan to help you quit. And visit cancer.org/healthy/stay-away-from-tobacco/guide-quitting-smoking.html for more help on smoking cessation.
Is it a sign?
Heart disease is the leading cause of death for men and women in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), equating to approximately one in four male deaths and one in five female deaths. One of the ways to help change that statistic is by staying on top of the warning signs of heart disease so that it can be caught early.
So, what are the primary signs in men and women? When should you call your provider? And when should you call 9-1-1?
While women sometimes experience non-traditional, more subtle symptoms like sweating, unusual fatigue, nausea or vomiting, and back, neck or jaw pain, men may experience more traditional symptoms like chest pain and breaking out into a cold sweat. The primary signs and symptoms for heart disease are:
- Chest discomfort. Most heart attacks involve discomfort in the center of the chest that lasts more than a few minutes, or that goes away and comes back. It can feel like uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness or pain.
- Discomfort in other areas of the upper body. Symptoms can include pain or discomfort in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw or stomach.
- Shortness of breath with or without chest discomfort.
- Other signs may include breaking out in a cold sweat, nausea or lightheadedness.
If you or someone you know exhibits signs of heart disease, it’s important to act quickly. Call 9-1-1 as soon as you suspect trouble. Remember, every minute matters.
You don’t have to experience any warning signs to address the issue of heart health with your provider. Even without obvious symptoms, you could be at risk. The CDC reports that half of the men who die suddenly of coronary heart disease have no previous symptoms. If you’re looking to learn more about risk factors and preventive care options, talk to your primary care provider about how you can help keep your heart healthy.
A Happy Heart is a Healthy Heart
You’ve heard the phrase, “Laughter is the best medicine,” right? There might be more truth to it than you think. Not only is laughter free, but research shows that laughing can strengthen your immune system, boost your energy, alleviate pain and protect you from the damaging effects of stress. How, you might ask?
Laughter relaxes the whole body. A good, hearty laugh can relieve physical tension and stress, leaving your muscles relaxed for up to 45 minutes after.
Laughter boosts the immune system. Laughter decreases stress hormones and increases immune cells and infection-fighting antibodies, thereby helping to improve your resistance to disease.
Laughter triggers the release of endorphins, the body’s natural feel-good chemicals. Endorphins promote an overall sense of well-being and can even temporarily relieve pain.
Laughter protects the heart. Laughter can improve the function of blood vessels and increase blood flow, which can help protect you against a heart attack and other heart issues.
Find a way to bring a little more laughter into each day. Plan some organized fun with friends or your kids, play with your pet, check a funny book out of the library or watch your favorite comedy.
Take as Directed: Talking to Your Doctor About Medications
An important step in taking charge of your health is speaking with your healthcare provider about medications you are taking, including its favorable results and any potential side effects.
As you age and experience life changes – including having a baby, undergoing surgery or experiencing other health events, finding the right medications for you is a crucial conversation to have with your providers. Below you’ll find a helpful list of questions to ask your provider when medication is prescribed to you.
What is the name of the medication, and what is it supposed to do?
How long will it be before I should expect to see results?
What kind of track record in terms of effectiveness does this medication have?
What are the primary short-term side effects of this medicine?
Are there any long-term side effects I should be aware of, such as diabetes, sexual side effects or weight gain?
Are there ways to minimize the side effects?
How and when do I take it, and when do I stop taking it?
What foods, drinks or other medications should I avoid while taking this medication?
Should it be taken with food or on an empty stomach?
Is it safe to drink alcohol while on this medication?
Is it safe for me to continue taking aspirin, ibuprofen, naproxen (Aleve), vitamins and/or herbal supplements when taking this medication? Is there something specific I should avoid?
Is a generic version available?
What should I do if I miss a dose?
Keep a current list of your medications with you at all times. If you start a new medication or discontinue one, update your list as soon as the change is made.
By learning all you can about the medications you take, you can take charge of your health and help set yourself up for success on the road to recovery.
Time Out: Does Your Heart Need a Break?
You wake up early, start making breakfast and lunches so you can get the kids fed, dressed and out the door in time for school. Follow that with eight or more hours at the office, sandwiched between traffic-laden commutes back and forth from the kids’ ball practice and dance lessons. Once you finally make it home, there’s still dinner to be made, dishes to be cleaned and baths to be taken. Whew.
Sound like a typical day? If it does, it might be time to pause, reassess your daily routine and discover some ways to work in a little more “me-time.”
There are many benefits to taking time for yourself. A little alone time can help you recharge, improve your focus and manage stress – which is key to maintaining a healthy heart.
You may be thinking, “Sounds great, but where in the world would I find the space in my schedule for that?” Well, we have a few strategies that might help.
Set your alarm 30 minutes earlier. Whether you choose to sit quietly, have a cup of coffee or sneak in a workout, as little as 30 minutes of quiet time – just for you – before the rest of the house wakes up can be just what you need to reboot and get ready to face the day with a fresh energy and outlook.
Schedule it like a business appointment. Block out 15-20 minutes on your calendar each day for some quiet time. That time is just for you, and you get to choose what to do with it. Take a walk. Stretch. Or just be still and enjoy the peace and quiet. No matter what you choose to do with your time, make sure it’s your time.
Unplug. That me-time we just talked about? Maximize its effectiveness by unplugging. No Facebook, email, Twitter, etc. Plug your phone in across the room. Let it recharge while you recharge.
Shut the door. Whether you’re taking your “me-time” at home or at the office, don’t be afraid to shut your door. This will help keep your “me-time” from becoming “we-time.”
Give Your Brown Bag a Boost
You’re at work. It’s lunchtime. Your brown bag lunch is waiting for you in the office fridge. Maybe it’s two-day-old meatloaf. Maybe it’s a turkey sandwich. Either way, you’re not too thrilled about it. We’ve all been there. We’ve also been there when the co-workers stop by and invite you out to the new burger joint down the street. This sounds much better, but at what cost – to your wallet and your heart? If only you could make your brown bag lunch more exciting. Well, you can! Start with this Broccoli Salad with Chopped Walnuts. The walnuts bring antioxidants and a satisfying crunch, the broccoli brings vitamins and fiber -which can help lower cholesterol, the poultry packs protein and the dressing adds a delightfully creamy finish.
¼ cup plain low-fat yogurt
¼ cup bottled light ranch salad dressing (make it even more heart-healthy by subbing lemon juice and olive oil)
1 ½ cups coarsely chopped cooked chicken or turkey
½ cup coarsely chopped broccoli
¼ cup shredded carrot
¼ cup chopped walnuts
In a small bowl, combine yogurt and salad dressing. In a medium bowl combine chicken, broccoli, carrot and nuts. Pour yogurt mixture over chicken mixture and toss to coat. For individual lunches, divide chicken mixture among four plastic cups. Cover and chill for up to 24 hours.
Heart Health Starts at Home
After a long day, it’s easy to go home, put your feet up and grab the remote. This may help you unwind, but it won’t do your heart any favors. In fact, if you’re like most Americans, it’s enhancing an already sedentary lifestyle, which can increase your risk for several health problems, including heart disease.
So tonight, instead of snuggling into the couch, try incorporating some physical activity into your evening routine first.
Take an after-dinner walk
Sit on the floor and stretch during your favorite show
Set a goal to do 100 jumping jacks, 25 push-ups, 25 lunges and 50 sit-ups.
Dust off the X-Box or Wii for 30 minutes of dancing, bowling, tennis or another interactive game
Play Twister or charades with the family
Do squats while you brush your teeth
The great thing is that exercise doesn’t have to be “work.” It comes in all shapes and sizes and can be done from the comfort of your own home!
How Weight Weighs on Your Heart
Many of us have made New Years resolutions to lose weight, eat healthier and exercise. When we don’t always follow through, it’s not because we don’t want to be healthier. More often, life just gets in the way.
But even with life’s challenges, it’s important for us to find ways to help our heart be healthy. Weight can be a critical indicator of our risk level for heart problems. More specifically, where that weight is can also elevate risk.
A thicker waistline can increase your risk for heart attack. Stomach fat is linked to high blood sugar, increased blood pressure and higher levels of triglycerides (fat used to store excess energy from the foods you eat). Belly fat is more dangerous for your heart as it is closer to your internal organs. It can also be the hardest kind of fat to lose, so working with your healthcare provider to create an eating and exercise plan can be particularly important to achieve and maintain a healthy weight and enhance your heart health.
Stress can lead to weight gain
The stress hormone cortisol can increase belly fat. It can also narrow your blood vessels, which can raise your blood pressure as your body tries to boost the flow of blood. If you are frequently stressed, the process can lead to blood vessel damage and a build-up of plaque.
I want to lose weight. Now what?
While there is no one-size-fits-all approach to losing weight and reducing your waistline, one thing is common: it starts with a decision to make a change. Talk to your primary care provider about putting together a nutrition and fitness plan to help you achieve and maintain a healthy weight. And remember, it’s a marathon, not a sprint. Avoid the two-week crash diets and opt for a long-term, more sustainable plan.
How to Have a Heart-to-Heart about Health
Understanding the risk factors, signs and symptoms of heart disease can have a big impact on the likelihood of a positive outcome and a strong recovery when issues arise. Besides recognizing these in yourself, it’s also important to be able to recognize them in your loved ones and be able to comfortably discuss them. By detecting potential heart problems early, we’re more likely to be able to help keep them from progressing into serious conditions. But having the conversation can be challenging. Here are a few tips to consider, if someone close to you is at risk:
Know the symptoms. According to the American Heart Association, most cardiac arrests that happen outside of the hospital occur at home, which means a spouse or child is likely to be the first to respond. Knowing the signs and symptoms will help you recognize a problem and act quickly and appropriately, including calling 9-1-1 for emergency help.
Share your concerns. The key to voicing your concerns about a loved one’s health is to do so in a caring and compassionate manner. Rather than coming across as “nagging,” let the person know that you care deeply about him or her and are genuinely concerned. Share any signs or symptoms you’ve noticed and offer to accompany the person to the doctor as a support system.
Encourage routine check-ups. Routine visits to a primary care provider are important in establishing a baseline for health and identifying potential health problems before they become serious. These should be done regardless of whether specific concerns or symptoms are present. You may consider scheduling your routine visits with your loved one together to serve as a support system for each other.
It Does That? Fun Facts About Your Hard-Working Heart
Your heart is one hard-working muscle – a fascinating, giant pump that’s working every second of every minute of every day. It’s working hard for you, so let these fun facts about your heart inspire you to work a little harder to keep it healthy.
Your adult heart beats about 100,000 times a day. That’s at least one beat every second, or 60-100 times a minute, according to the American Heart Association. For people whose heart rate is closer to 60 beats per minute, that’s about 86,000 times a day. And it’s 144,000 times a day if your heart rate is closer to 100 beats per minute.
As you get older, your heart rate gets slower. As children grow, their little bodies are constantly undergoing changes – limbs get longer and bones get stronger. According to the National Institutes of Health, your heart rate also changes throughout your early life:
0-11 months – 70-160 beats per minute
1-4 years – 80-120 beats per minute
5-9 years – 75-110 beats per minute
A normal resting heart rate for adults ranges from 60 to 100 beats per minute. Generally, a lower heart rate at rest implies better heart health and that your heart is functioning more efficiently. For example, a well-trained athlete might have a normal resting heart rate closer to 40 beats per minute.
Your heart rate drops while you sleep. As you sleep, it’s common for heart rates to drop below 60 beats per minute. Why? Your metabolism slows, which in turn slows your heart and helps your body relax.
To measure your heart rate, simply check your pulse. Place your index and third fingers on your neck to the side of your windpipe. To check your pulse at your wrist, place two fingers between the bone and the tendon over your radial artery – which is located on the thumb side of your wrist. When you feel your pulse, count the number of beats in 15 seconds and multiply that number by four to calculate your beats per minute.
Keep in mind that many factors can influence heart rate, including:
Fitness and activity levels
Being a smoker
Having heart disease, high cholesterol or diabetes
Body position (standing up vs. lying down, for example)
Medications you are currently taking
Although there's a wide range of normal, an unusually high or low heart rate may indicate an underlying problem. Consult your provider if your resting heart rate is consistently above 100 beats a minute (tachycardia) or if you're not a trained athlete and your resting heart rate is below 60 beats a minute (bradycardia) — especially if you have other signs or symptoms, such as fainting, dizziness or shortness of breath.
Make sure you’re working hard to keep your heart healthy – just like it’s working hard for you. An annual check-up with your primary care provider or a cardiologist can help you take a more active role in your heart health. Make an appointment today.
Your Once-A-Year Day: Annual Screenings are Good for Your Heart
Playing an active role in your preventive health is a key factor in preventing heart disease and managing your risk factors for heart problems. And one of the best preventive health measures is your annual check-up with your primary care provider. Even if you don’t have a heart condition, it’s essential to schedule and keep annual exams. Make the most of your time with your provider and ask them about taking these screening tests:
Weight, waist size and body mass index (BMI)
Fasting blood glucose
Your provider will discuss any concerns that result from these screenings and may suggest specific lifestyle changes or prescribe you medication to help you manage a particular risk factor. In some cases, your provider may refer you to a cardiologist for further testing and evaluation if needed.
Staying on top of your annual check-up will help you stay on top of your health so that you can keep doing all the things you love.
Consistently getting a good night’s sleep is one of the most beneficial things you can do for the health of your mind and body. And it’s particularly important for your heart. Even though it keeps beating after you close your eyes, it benefits from the lowered blood pressure that happens when you drift off to dreamland. Check out these pointers to ward off tossing and turning and help ensure a deep and relaxing sleep that leaves you rejuvenated and ready to tackle your day.
Bedroom = Sleep Only
Our lives are filled with more distractions than ever, but it’s a good idea to keep them out of the bedroom. This means avoiding work, phone calls, television, social media, tablets and laptops in the bedroom. The light from these screens can make it harder to fall asleep, confusing your body’s internal clock. And the visual cues they provide will keep you intrigued and awake when you should be winding down.
Set Yourself Up for Success
Your sleeping environment has a big impact on your sleep. The more you can create a dark room for sleep, the better. Turn off everything that makes noise. Keep the thermostat cool (cool rooms induce sleep!). If you toss and turn, try a different pillow or mattress.
Bedtime is often a rushed affair with hasty teeth brushing and hopping into bed, followed by an impatient wait for sleep to come. Instead, try a short relaxation routine leading up to falling asleep. Breathe slowly and deeply after you climb into bed, concentrating on relaxing one muscle at a time. Say a short, relaxing mantra in your head a few times. Most importantly, try not to obsess about falling asleep. It may cause your brain to become overly engaged. If you don’t fall asleep after 20 minutes, try reading a book for a few minutes with a dim light.
Make a Routine and Stick to It
Have a time that you go to bed and a time that you wake up each day and stick with them. It can be tempting to sleep in on the weekends or stay up late to finish that page-turner, but the more you can stick to your routine every day, the better for your sleep. Also avoid alcohol, caffeine and spicy or acidic foods as you near your bedtime, as they can interfere with your sleep.
If these techniques don’t help and you’re having trouble sleeping, you may have a sleep disorder. Talk with your provider about your issues and consider making an appointment with a sleep specialist who can assist you.
We Heart Dessert
How many of us want to beat a hasty path to the freezer for a few scoops of ice cream after dinner? While it’s nice to treat yourself from time to time, it’s important to keep the decadent desserts as a special treat, rather than an every-night occurrence.
Luckily for your sweet tooth, some desserts are healthier than others, like this recipe for Grilled Peaches with Yogurt and Honey. When peaches aren’t in season, try swapping them for some heart-healthy blueberries or raspberries.
¼ cup fat-free vanilla Greek yogurt
1/8 tsp cinnamon
2 large ripe peaches, cut in half (pit removed)
2 tbsp honey
Combine yogurt and cinnamon. Grill the peaches, covered on low or indirect heat until soft (about 2-4 minutes on each side). Drizzle with honey and serve each slice with 1 tbsp of the yogurt mixture.
Got Kids? Give ‘Em Heart!
As a parent, there are a number of great reasons to get your kids to think of their health as a priority. And there are a number of great ways to help them do that, including regular physical activity.
Creating a more active family lifestyle can be done anytime, anywhere. Family walks after dinner, weekend excursions like hiking or skiing, a trip to the local pool, a game of pick-up basketball – these are all inexpensive and easy ways to get you and your kids moving together. If you’re looking for a goal to stay motivated, consider finding a local 5K and fun run that you and your family can train for together. Whatever you choose, the bottom line is to get up and get moving.
Besides instilling the importance of regular physical activity to your kids, joining in the fun as a parent serves as a great example to your kids and allows you the opportunity to bond with them more.
Your heart and their hearts will thank you!
Heart Health at Any Age
Things change as we get older. How you took care of yourself in your 20s might be very different from how you take care of yourself today. That said, it’s important to understand what you should keep in mind as you age. Check out these pointers on what to remember as each decade comes and goes, as well as some things to keep in mind at every age.
All Age Groups: The food you eat can directly contribute to your risk of heart disease, so choose a healthy eating plan that includes vegetables, fruits, whole grains and lean poultry and fish. Avoid saturated and trans-fats and an excess of sodium, as well as tobacco products. Pair your healthy eating with regular physical activity. And be aware of the warning signs of heart disease so you can stay on top of your health and help stop issues before they become bigger problems.
Your 20s: Find a primary care provider and get in the habit of regular wellness exams. Even healthy people need providers. Establishing a relationship with one can have long lasting benefits for your health.
Your 30s: Juggling your job and the needs of a family can start to increase stress levels and leave little time for physical activity. Make heart healthy living a family affair with healthy family meals eaten together and family walks each week. Take some time to learn your family history to spot any indicators of future heart health issues for yourself, and make sure your primary care provider is aware of your family medical history. And take some time for you. Stress can have far-reaching impacts on your overall health – including your heart – so even if it’s just a hot bath at the end of the day, don’t lose sight of your own well-being.
Your 40s: You may notice your metabolism slowing down, resulting in the need to work a little more diligently in both diet and exercise to maintain a healthy weight. Finding a workout buddy can help keep exercise engaging. Have your blood sugar checked, in addition to your other heart numbers like blood pressure and cholesterol. If you’re snoring, it could be a clue that you have sleep apnea. Talk with your provider about potential solutions, as sleep apnea can lead to high blood pressure, heart disease and stroke.
Your 50s: Keep up with your healthy eating, taking some time to refresh the healthy habits you’ve established over the years. Re-familiarize yourself with the warning signs of heart problems. At this point, despite your best efforts, you may have been diagnosed with high blood pressure or cholesterol. Follow the treatment plan your provider sets out for you to lower your risk for complications.
Your 60s and beyond: Continue seeing your provider regularly. If you haven’t already had one, an ankle-brachial index test can assess the pulse in your feet to help identify any peripheral artery disease, which is the buildup of plaque in the leg arteries. Keep paying attention to maintaining a healthy weight, and be careful not to fall into bad habits. Stay abreast of the warning signs of heart attack, not just in yourself but in your loved ones as well. Men and women can experience heart problems differently and it may be up to you to get your spouse to see a provider.
Heart health is a lifelong journey. By maintaining a healthy lifestyle, engaging with your provider about your health and knowing what to look for when it comes to potential issues, you’re going a long way in ensuring a good life for your heart. After all, we only get one. Take care of it well!
Minutes Matter: Knowing the Signs Can Save a Life
When a heart attack strikes, minutes matter. Those first few minutes following a heart attack are critical in determining the short-term and long-term outcome for the patient. According to the National Institutes of Health, about half of those who die from heart attacks will die within an hour of their first symptom. Being able to quickly recognize what’s happening and act can help ensure that the victim gets proper medical treatment as soon as possible.
If you or someone around you is experiencing any of the following symptoms, call 9-1-1 immediately to receive help and treatment as quickly as possible.
Heart Attack Symptoms
Chest discomfort (Most heart attacks involve discomfort in the center of the chest that lasts more than a few minutes, or that goes away and comes back. It can feel like uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness or pain.)
Discomfort in other areas of the upper body (Symptoms can include pain or discomfort in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw or stomach.)
Shortness of breath (with or without chest discomfort)
Other signs, including breaking out in a cold sweat, nausea or lightheadedness
Face drooping (If you notice one side of your or someone else’s face drooping, or if it is numb, this is a telltale sign of a stroke. If you are uncertain, ask the person to smile.)
Arm weakness (Many stroke victims experience weakness or numbness in one arm.)
Speech difficulty (Speech may be slurred, prohibited or difficult to understand. If someone you are with is experiencing this, ask him or her to repeat a simple sentence, like “The sky is blue.” If he or she cannot, call 9-1-1 immediately.)
Cardiac Arrest Symptoms
Sudden loss of responsiveness (If the person does not respond when tapped on the shoulder, they are likely experiencing cardiac arrest.)
No normal breathing (The victim does not take a normal breath when you tilt the head up and check for at least five seconds.)
Talk with your provider to learn more about the symptoms and steps you can take today to improve your heart health.
Five Surprising Ways to Boost Your Heart Health
You probably know that healthy eating and regular physical activity are critically important to maintaining good heart health. But there are a number of other things you can do to give your heart an extra boost that might surprise you.
Laugh. Research has pointed to laughter having several benefits for your heart health, including increased blood flow and lowered stress levels. It turns out that laughter really is one of the best medicines, after all.
Have a little dark chocolate. Yep. You heard us. Dark chocolate contains polyphenols, which reduce the number of cell-damaging free radicals in your body. Just don’t go overboard – research suggests indulging three times a month.
Be a good neighbor. Next time you see your neighbor, say hi! According to a University of Michigan study, people who felt like a part of their community, trusted their neighbors and felt safe were 34 percent less likely to have a heart attack.
Spend time with your pet. Some studies have shown that owning a pet can help increase physical activity and lower blood pressure.
Get a flu shot. A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in 2013 showed that persons who received a flu shot reduced their risk of heart disease, stroke, heart failure or death from cardiac-related causes by roughly 36 percent.
Heart Disease: An Unwanted Heirloom
You’ve got your father’s eyes, your grandmother’s laugh, but what about your uncle’s heart disease? While many inherited traits are good, others – like heart disease – aren’t. It’s important to know how your family’s history with heart disease can affect your own heart health.
If you don’t know your family’s full health history, start with your immediate family first. Find out if your siblings, parents or grandparents had or have heart disease. Share this information with your primary care provider so that they can help you develop a preventive care plan that works best for you.
Even if your family has a clean bill of health, it’s still a good idea to talk with your provider about your risks, as there are other genetic factors that may increase your risk for heart disease.
While you can’t choose your genes, you can take preventive measures to reduce your risk – like healthy eating, regular physical activity, maintaining a healthy weight, avoiding tobacco and staying on top of your numbers like blood pressure and cholesterol.
Did You Brush? The Surprising Link Between Dental Health and Your Heart
How well do you take care of your teeth and gums? Some research has shown a link between poor oral health and poor heart health. Studies have shown a link between gum disease and increased heart disease risk and that poor oral health can increase the risk of bacterial infection in your bloodstream. One study published by the American Heart Association showed gum disease appearing to worsen blood pressure and interferes with hypertension medications.
While there’s no proof of poor oral health as a specific cause for heart disease, it’s still important to take care of your teeth and gums as part of your overall health plan. Brushing your teeth at least twice daily, flossing daily and scheduling regular dental cleanings and check-ups will keep you on the right path of good oral health.
Thank you for joining us on this 29-day journey of heart health. We hope you’ve found it helpful and that you’ve learned something about your heart that you may not have known before.
Remember, heart health isn’t about a crash diet. It’s not about getting up at 5 am to run 10 miles every day or vowing to never eat dessert again. And it’s not a sprint. It’s a commitment to yourself and your family to make heart health – and your overall health – a priority in your life. It’s about establishing healthy habits that will help sustain your heart for years to come.
Before you go, here’s one more recipe that’s a great heart-healthy addition to your collection.
White Bean Chicken Chili
1 tbsp olive oil
1 ½ cups chopped onion
2 4-oz cans chopped green chiles
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp ground cumin
1/8 -1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
3 15-oz cans great northern beans, rinsed
4 cups reduced-sodium chicken broth
4 cups diced cooked skinless chicken (or turkey)
2 tbsp cider vinegar
Heat oil in a large pot or Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about five minutes. Stir in chiles, oregano, cumin and cayenne pepper. Stir occasionally, for five minutes. Stir in beans and broth and bring to a simmer. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 20 minutes. Add chicken and vinegar and cook for five minutes more.