By Linda Fodrini-Johnson, MA, MFT, CMC
The American Heart Association announced that deaths from cardiac issues have increased this past year for the first time after a three decade decline. Cardiac issues were in decline as a result of people taking better care of themselves with exercise, diet and good medical care. What went wrong? Did we all forget we are not immortal? If we want to live a long life we have to be the caretaker of our bodies.
February is National Heart Month. There are many contributing factors that lead to cardiovascular disease and some can be reversed with simple lifestyle changes. However, change is not easy, we need good medical direction and support to stay heart healthy.
Cancer doesn’t fall far behind heart disease as a leading cause of death – and some of the same factors that prevent cardiac disease could also prevent cancer.
The latest statistic on obesity revealed that 69% of the adults in the US are overweight. Unfortunately, diet is an issue that’s not just about eating less, but about eating the right foods that will enhance our well-being and even positively affect our ability to stay well by improving our immune systems.
What do we need to do to improve heart health?
- Stop Smoking.
- Exercise – Try for 150 minutes a week of moderate aerobic exercise – like brisk walking. Start slowly, then add a few days of weight training.
- Change your diet – Eliminate if possible, prepared packaged foods. Use organic vegetables and fruits; try for 6-8 servings a day. Choose lean low fat meats; reduce red meats to twice a week or less. Add fish (especially omega-rich fish like salmon), legumes, and beans. In addition, when choosing meats ask for free range (caged animals add stress hormones to our bodies). Eat whole grains daily – oatmeal, brown rice, whole grain not whole wheat breads.
- Eliminate saturated and trans fats. Replace them with heart healthy fats such as olive oil, avocados and nuts (nut butters are great on toast). According to research, eating a handful of nuts daily can reduce your chance of both heart attacks and strokes. Be sure to have some good fat every day or even better every meal.
- Reduce your intake of salt (avoid canned soups and prepared foods – read the labels). Reduce your intake of sugars – many low fat foods are loaded with sugar.
- Attempt to reduce and manage stress. Learn mindfulness exercises – Do them daily. Find a support group or a safe place to talk about stressors. Call us and we will send you a few examples of exercises you could add to your daily routine.
- Have regular health check-ups – manage your blood pressure, cholesterol and know what your blood sugar levels are – Diabetes increases your risk of heart disease.
Before making any lifestyle changes to improve heart health, including your diet, consult with your physician.
Being connected to friends, family and the community contributes to good health and can also reduce the possibility of a disease like Alzheimer’s. Do not become isolated. It can be a challenge to find a safe place to talk about stressors. Eldercare Services offers many classes that can be effective to get the support you need for better health, and they are free!
If you have very personal issues that you are worrying about, you might want to contact us and have a session with a therapist. Therefore, you can be free of stressors and lighten the load on your cardiovascular system.
Our heart is truly the center of our life. So, let’s make 2017 the year we work on changing habits to improve heart health. While at the same time extending our lives to make them the best they can be.