Heart disease is the number one killer of women in the United States, claiming more lives than all forms of cancer combined. And by 2020, heart disease will be the leading cause of all deaths worldwide! February is American Heart Month, and with stats like that, the time to start taking better care of your ticker is right now. The American Heart Association’s Go Red For Women campaign wants all women to know they are at risk for this dangerous disease, so they can take action to protect their health. We’ve broken down Life’s Simple 7, a list of seven changes anyone can make to improve their heart health! The steps are not expensive nor time consuming. Start with one or two steps and work your way up to all seven! Your heart will thank (and love) you!
1. Get Active
We’ve all heard it a million times—exercise is important—but nearly 70 percent of Americans are still not getting the physical activity they need! Now here’s the good news—the CDC no longer barks orders at you of 30 minutes a day. Instead, the CDC now says we need 150 minutes of moderate intensity heart pumping exercise a week, so you can divide it up however you want. YOU take charge and be self-directed and you can seriously lower your risks for heart disease, stroke and diabetes. If you are new to exercise, simply start with walking (yes, that counts!). Park farther away from your destination or go on brisk walks in 10-minute chunks. In addition to heart health benefits, physically active people nearly always report better moods, less stress, and a better outlook on life!
2. Control Cholesterol
Your arteries deserve a fighting chance to keep your heart healthy and that starts with keeping cholesterol in check. High cholesterol leads to blocked arteries, and blocked arteries lead to heart disease and stroke. To avoid these problems, start by scheduling cholesterol screening; if your cholesterol level is 200 mg/dl or higher, it’s time to take action! Aim for foods high in fiber and low in cholesterol and trans fats. And back to Step 1, move more! Activity and exercise increases your body’s ability make good cholesterol, and your heart craves good cholesterol!
3. Eat Better
In the battle against cardiovascular disease, heart-healthy foods are the superheroes fighting for our cardiovascular systems! However, recent studies show that more than 90 percent of us fail to consistently eat a heart-healthy diet and call on the villainous hamburgers and fries a little too often. For the healthiest heart possible, eat vegetables and fruits galore, unrefined fiber-rich whole-grain foods and fish at least twice a week and cut back on processed foods, fast foods and foods with lots of added sugar. Yes, healthier eating requires a bit more planning, but your health is an incredibly valuable asset that, for the most part, is under your control.
4. Manage Blood Pressure
Here’s a scary statistic—high blood pressure is the single most significant risk factor for heart disease. Now here’s an even scarier one—one in three adults has high blood pressure, yet many people don’t even know they have it! That’s why high blood pressure is sometimes referred to as the “silent killer” because it has no symptoms. Now, what can you do to reduce it? Food is once again extremely important, and heart-healthy diet that is low in sodium is key! Also, maintaining a healthy weight by sweating, watching your alcohol intake and managing stress will help keep the “silent killer” at bay! Are you getting the picture? All of these things are intertwined.
By the way, we have a iHealth blood pressure cuff at home and my husband and I love it … it’s just nice to be able to check at home and track it on our iPhone with the free mobile app. You don’t have to memorize the numbers from the drug store reading and you can track patterns if there is any genetic history of high blood pressure in your family. It’s reassuring that you can be your own best health advocate.
5. Lose Weight
Simply put, if you have too much fat—especially at your waist—you put yourself at a higher risk for heart disease. Lugging around unnecessary pounds puts a burden on your heart, lungs, blood vessels and skeleton! But get this: even losing as few as five or ten pounds can produce results such as a dramatic blood pressure reduction! I’ve seen it happen with numerous clients: a 10 pound weight loss takes their numbers back to normal and the doctors all say “Gosh, what are you doing?” The answer: eating real food, moving their bodies and getting rest. Those of you who know me, know I can talk about exercise all day long – so I’ll spare you the words … but head over to Get Healthy U TV and try a new workout; it may be just the motivation you need to get back into regular exercise!
6. Reduce Blood Sugar
Do you know your resting blood sugar level? If the number is below 100, you are in the healthy range, but if not, you could be at risk for diabetes or pre-diabetes. Excess blood sugar is no laughing matter; the American Heart Association considers diabetes one of the major controllable risk factors for cardiovascular disease. To give yourself the best chance for a healthy life, you need to start reducing sugar today to slow the progression of long-term complications. That means less soda, less candy and less sugary desserts. Go for the natural stuff, you know, good old-fashioned fruit. In addition to cutting the junk from your diet, regular physical activity helps your body better respond properly to insulin and make sure to never skip medications or insulin if it is prescribed to you. These small changes can add up to major improvements in diabetes control!
7. Stop Smoking
Did you see what CVS recently quit for good? The pharmacy will no longer be selling cigarettes, and thank goodness, because among a slew of other health problems, cigarette smokers have a higher risk of developing cardiovascular disease. That little unassuming white stick damages your entire circulatory system and increases your risk for coronary heart disease, hardened arteries, aneurysms and blood clots; the time to quit is now! If that means going one day a time or just one hour a time, you do whatever you need to do to break the addiction. For more support, check out the American Heart Association’s Quit Smoking website.
Show Some Love to Your Friends, Family, and Significant Other
This isn’t on the American Heart Association’s official list, but c’mon, loving others is good for the heart and the soul! Hug, high-five, hold someone tight—a little loving can go a long way! A happy heart is a healthy heart.