This week one of our friends, a man only sixty-seven years old, stunned family members by suffering a heart attack. As I write this article his family members are winging their way to Boston where he is on life support.
Whenever incidents like these occur, shocked family members gather in grief-stricken groups and voice surprise and shock that this has occurred. Unfortunately for those of us who have become sensitive to heart-healthy habits, the question is more: Why did this not happen sooner?
This man has been on collision course towards a heart attack or stroke for over a decade. His doctor has repeatedly discussed lifestyle changes with him. This month we share seven heart-healthy lifestyle habits my friend’s doctor discussed. Our aim is simple: If we can save one person from a heart attack or stroke then this blog will be a success.
1. Move Your Body!
As Edward Stanley pointed out: Those who think they have no time for exercise will sooner or later have to find time for illness. It’s not rocket science. Like the other muscles in your body, your heart needs exercise regularly. Your goal should be a minimum of a hundred and fifty minutes of movements that get your heart pumping per week. Keep a heart-healthy log of exercise time. What could these aerobic exercises be? Yoga, tai chi, swimming, walking, running, biking, playing tennis, rowing… Literally, any movement that gets your heart rate up is a good aerobic activity. You can choose something you love to do or you can change up activities to cut boredom. Perhaps you live in a region where outdoor activities change with the seasons. Take advantage of that fact to mix up aerobic activities
2. Eat Your Veggies
Mothers have been urging their kids to eat their veggies for generations. Now we have yet another reason to do so. A European study reported that eating eight servings of veggies and fruits per day reduces the risk of dying from heart disease by almost twenty-five percent. Cardiologists advise their patients to fill half their plate with fruit and vegetables. Aim at eight servings a day.
What is a typical serving? One carrot; a banana; an apple; a ½ cup of peas. You get the idea! Dietitians suggest these additions to get the required fruit and vegetable servings: add salsa to your omelet at breakfast. Instead of reaching for a bag of chips or a candy bar, keep a piece of fruit as a snack. Keep unsweetened dried fruit and nuts in your work area. Include a salad at lunch and dinner. Substitute an additional serving of vegetables for potatoes or bread.
3. Put Some Color in Your Life!
Vegetables and fruits are cardio-friendly because they have antioxidants which protect blood vessels and arteries from the damaging effects of high cholesterol, high blood pressure, high blood sugar and diets high in fats, and sugars. Aim at adding as much color to your fruit and vegetable servings as you can for the full value of antioxidants. Here are some excellent choices: strawberries, raspberries, tomatoes, watermelon, red beans, carrots, sweet potatoes, oranges, butternut squash, eggplant, blueberries, black berries purple cabbage, black beans, spinach, Swiss chard, broccoli, collard greens, kiwi, arugula, green cabbage, green lentils, green peas, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, onion, garlic, pear, apple, white beans, banana, pinto beans, almonds, pecans, sunflower seeds, lentils, and hummus. Make your plate a veritable rainbow. Your heart will thank you!
4. Aim at Whole Grains
Not all carbohydrates are bad news. Aim at eating whole grain breads, cereals, and pasta. Make it your goal to have pastas, breads or cereals once a day. The rest of the day, trade pasta and bread for starchy vegetables like roasted sweet potatoes, mashed acorn squash or a corn. Think about tossing starchy vegetables into a salad.
5. Get Adventurous!
Every week try something new. For instance, experiment with quinoa cooked in equal parts water and coconut milk. Or, cook brown rice with some diced veggies and an olive oil vinaigrette dressing. Each week, I will offer you another way to get adventurous in your heart smart eating.
6. Shun Red Meat!
Red meat carries the highest risk of heart disease, cancer, and overall mortality compared to any other protein sources. Just as your plate should be a rainbow of colors when it comes to fruit and vegetable, so too it should be a sea of white when it comes to meat choices. Try smaller servings of meat served less often and substitute for red meat. Good choices? Choose fish at least twice a week. Next, select skinless poultry and lean pork often. Eggs are also great protein source.
7. Channel Your Energy!
If you are depressed, irritable, anxious, impatient, hostile, tense, angry, uptight or highly competitive then research says your personality puts you at the strongest risk of heart attack. While changing one’s personality is difficult, you can learn how to cope with your emotions and stress. Instead of venting anger, frustration, impatience, competition or hostility, try channeling that pent-up energy into something positive. Such things as hobbies, sports, volunteering and tai chi may be just the thing to diffuse those heart-harming emotions!
Rome wasn’t built in a day. Making small changes gradually will move you toward heart-friendly habits. What are you doing to become heart smart? We’d love to hear from you.