What Does Heart-Healthy Mean in Day-To-Day Life?
These days, heart health has become a loosely used term. And while the theory behind heart, healthy foods, drinks, and activities are important to understand, how can one practice a healthy heart lifestyle in “real” life? In other words, with all the temptations around us, what can we do to prolong our heart health and, frankly, our lives?
The most important thing to understand about heart health is that it is not a zero-sum game. If you have been following lax dietary and exercise habits and experiencing high cholesterol, hypertension, diabetes, or other metabolic concerns, it’s important to remember that these did not develop overnight and will not be fixed immediately. Getting back to a heart-healthy lifestyle is a continuum that will start with minor improvements that eventually lead to more considerable successes—being heart-healthy means changing habits for the better but doing so sustainably.
Plenty of data supports the concept of incremental improvements leading to long-term overall success. These improvements may seem small, but as we stack one on the other, we slowly but surely reach our goals.
Heart Healthy Habits for This Month
As we approach summer, we have fantastic opportunities to go outside and be active. This does not necessarily mean running a half marathon or performing overly strenuous activities. Instead, now is a great time to start a walking routine. As with any new habit we create, starting slow is just fine. If you have several metabolic or cardiovascular issues, walking may be challenging, so start within the bounds of your abilities. We certainly don’t want your condition to worsen from overstressing your heart, nor do we want you to be injured and sidelined for weeks or months. Start your walk with about 10 minutes of activity and see how it goes. It may not feel like a lot, and you may be tempted to push yourself, but it’s best to recognize that any new activity should not be taken lightly. Try adding an extra minute to your walk for the next three weeks days to reach a consistent half-hour a day.
Walking is good cardio, but there are other components to improving your heart health. You’ll need to modify your diet in addition to walking. It’s easy to tell a patient to avoid added sugars, saturated fats, and excess sodium, but what does that look like practically? The best way to do this is to eliminate sodas, refined grains, and processed foods. Replacing these items with high protein, lean meats, like chicken, pork, and turkey, and leafy vegetables like spinach and a simple green salad will show significant improvement quickly. Don’t be tempted to go extreme with no or low-carb diets, often pushed online by social media influencers. The goal is to eat varied foods but choose options as close to their original state as possible. The Mediterranean diet, for example, is an excellent option for doing so.
Of course, we don’t pretend to think that all our patients can completely change their lifestyles so quickly, and we understand that you will want to enjoy an indulgence occasionally. There’s nothing wrong with doing so if you’re careful with what you eat, moderate the quantity you consume, and ensure that your indulgences do not become a regular event. If you go out to eat, drinking a large glass of water about an hour before may be helpful. You can also check out the menu beforehand and choose your meal to make your selection in a more controlled mental state.
Lastly, while cardio exercise is essential for continued heart health, we can’t discount the importance of strength training. Building and maintaining muscle mass is critical for anyone, young or old, wanting to sustain heart and general health over the long term. Strength training does not necessarily mean going to the gym, and many patients do very well at home using their body weight instead of free weights. If you belong to a gym, great! Start slowly to ensure you don’t injure yourself.
Most importantly, don’t expect to see results overnight. Strength training requires weeks and months of regular dedication to see results. Eventually, it will become a lifelong habit and commitment that does wonders for your health.
As you can tell, heart health is just as much a mental shift as it is a physical one. It’s important to slowly change your lifestyle, thus ensuring that the changes you make are sustainable over the long term. Taking these progressive and measured steps toward better health is a recipe for long-term heart health and the improvement of many conditions and diseases that are precursors to heart disease. With that said, of course, speaking to your doctor about any exercise or diet changes you plan to make in your life is very important. We can help guide you to effective and sustainable exercises and dietary programs that do not affect your heart negatively. We encourage you to schedule an appointment to work with your Nevada Cardiology specialist to change your life.