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Three simple heart healthy lifestyle changes

It’s February, and what does that make us all think about? Heart health, of course. But whether you’re reading this article during American Heart Month or not, the importance of heart health will never be out of season. The good news is making simple heart healthy lifestyle changes can have dramatic results.

Cardiovascular disease (CVD) is the leading cause of death not only in the U.S. but also globally. Understanding your risk factors and having an honest conversation with your health care provider is the best way to forge your way to a healthy heart.

Know your risk factors so you can lead a heart healthy lifestyle

CVD covers a wide range of conditions, including coronary heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, heart failure, diseases of the arteries, and more. And the risk factors are just as diverse...

Smoking – Smoking is one of the main causes of CVD, leading to one-quarter of CVD-related deaths.

Physical inactivityApproximately 35% of coronary heart disease deaths are a result of physical inactivity, a greater risk than cigarettes because twice as many American adults are inactive compared to those who smoke.

Poor nutrition – Research published by the American Heart Association found that about half of all CVD deaths could have been prevented with a heart healthy diet.

Poor sleepThe National Sleep Foundation claims that people who don’t get enough sleep are at a higher risk of cardiovascular disease and coronary heart disease because it affects blood pressure and inflammation.

Overweight/obesityBeing overweight or obese affects cholesterol levels, causes blood pressure to rise, and contributes to diabetes, all of which are individual risk factors for heart disease.

Cholesterol – While there are recent conflicting views on this matter, it is generally understood that having normal HDL (high-density lipoprotein) cholesterol levels and LDL (low-density lipoprotein) cholesterol levels helps to reduce the risk of heart disease.

Diabetes – According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, the longer a person has diabetes, the higher their chance is of developing heart disease.

High blood pressure (hypertension) – High blood pressure damages the blood vessels, which sets the stage for plaque formation.

3 heart healthy lifestyle tips that make a big impact

Most people subscribe to the preconceived idea that heart disease just happens as a natural part of the aging process. But nothing could be further from the truth.

The overwhelming good news when it comes to heart disease is that so much of it is preventable. While some conditions are of course hereditary, in most cases, it’s the lifestyle habits we form that determine whether heart disease will be part of our future.

When you take control of your health and make heart healthy lifestyle changes, you reduce your risk factors, plain and simple.

Here are my top 3 heart healthy lifestyle tips to get you going...

Start with what feels the easiest

When I work with a patient to improve their heart health or prevent future issues, it’s all centered around the patient as an individual. Any positive change they make will have a positive impact, so at Vivacity Care Center, we start where the patient is. We look at changes they could make, and I ask them what feels easiest.

Simple baby steps often include things like:

  • Opting for the stairs instead of the escalator (and sometimes that’s even faster!)
  • Going to bed just 30 minutes earlier than normal
  • Replacing one soda a day with water

When you take this approach, it feels easier, you can get quick results, and that will motivate you to make other changes.

Make simple heart healthy diet changes

Often, the easiest thing to change is diet because little adjustments can make a huge difference. Remember, you don’t need to shop at expensive health food stores; regular grocery stores have healthy options.

Here are some of the easiest suggestions I give to my patients:

Decrease meat and increase veggies.

When you decrease your meat consumption and eat a diet that is richer in plant-based and whole foods, you supply your heart with the nutrients it needs to thrive. In fact, one study showed that increasing your daily vegetable intake to 10 servings can reduce your risk of CVD by 28%.

TIP: Stock up on frozen vegetables. They are inexpensive and nutritious because they are flash frozen right after harvest.

Reduce the amount of sodium you consume.

We need salt in our diets, but too much of it causes our bodies to store excess water, which raises blood pressure. Most Americans consume almost 3200 mg of sodium each day, while The Heart Foundation recommends consuming less than 2000 mg per day.

TIP: Always check the sodium content on processed and canned foods before purchasing them. Don’t buy any foods that have more milligrams of sodium compared to the calories per serving.

Eat more fiber.

Fiber lowers blood pressure and cholesterol, while filling you up and helping you avoid overeating, which is all good stuff when we’re talking about heart health. Beans and whole grains are healthy, fiber-rich choices, and you can buy them in bulk. Dark, leafy greens are some of the healthiest foods you can eat, and they are one of the best sources of fiber.

Quit smoking

Out of all the heart healthy lifestyle changes, quitting smoking is one that not everyone is ready to make, but it is low-hanging fruit. The damage that smoking does to the body is undeniable.

With each inhale of cigarette smoke, over 7000 toxic chemicals are released into the body. On top of that, tobacco contains carbon monoxide, which displaces and deprives the organs of the oxygen they need to function properly.

Too often, people think that if they’ve been smoking all of their lives, quitting won’t really matter. But, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services says that the carbon monoxide level in the blood drops to normal just 12 hours after quitting. And a year after quitting, the risk of heart disease is half compared to people who still smoke.

These days, there is a lot of support to help people quit smoking. For example, there are stop-smoking groups, oral substitutes (hard candy, gum, straws, toothpicks, etc.), health coaches, and behavioral specialists. Nicotine replacement therapies (NRTs), such as nicotine patches, gum, and lozenges, can be a huge help in reducing nicotine addiction.

TIP: Acupuncture has also provided many patients with amazing results, and it’s often covered by health insurance.

Most people are amazed by how drastic the results are when they make even the smallest heart healthy lifestyle changes. This is because we are holistic beings, and that means that when we adjust one thing, it impacts everything else.

At Vivacity Care Center, we take a holistic approach to primary care. You aren’t just a number to us. We spend 30-60 minutes with our patients, getting to know them, looking at their whole health, and working on a custom plan to help them succeed.

You’re not alone on this journey! We have in-house health coaches to help support you in making step-by-step lifestyle changes.

Depression is also a risk factor in heart disease. Our behavioral health specialists are here to provide the mental health support you need to reduce your risk.

No matter who you’re working with to improve your heart health, be honest! Don’t try to hide some of your habits and “look good.” Your healthcare providers need to understand the “bad” in order to support and celebrate the good. We aren’t here to judge you; we are here to help you.

It’s time to put some heart healthy lifestyle habits in motion.

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