This article was updated in December 2021 to reflect recent updates and research.
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Improving your heart health is one of the most impactful things you can do to improve your health overall.
In a recent Heart to Start podcast episode, a Providence heart doctor speaks with a mental performance expert about the importance of goal setting, mindset and a supportive community.
When it comes to setting and achieving heart healthy goals, Heart to Start is here to help.
If getting healthier is at the top of your to-do list, you’re not alone. And your heart is a great place to start. Heart disease is responsible for 1 in 4 deaths, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That makes it the leading cause of death for both men and women in the United States. Improving your heart health is one of the most impactful things you can do to improve your health overall.
But where do you start? With health goals, it’s easy to make vague promises like, “I’m going to eat healthier,” or “I’m going to get more exercise.” It can be harder to define a specific goal and achieve it.
In the most recent podcast episode for our Heart to Start program, Providence cardiologist James Beckerman, M.D., FACC, sits down with Elliott Waksman. Elliott is a Certified Mental Performance Consultant, who helps athletes and teams focus on the psychological side of sports and physical activity. We’ve gathered some of their tips for setting and achieving attainable goals for a healthier heart.
Start small to make big improvements for your heart health
To improve your heart health, it’s important to set practical goals for yourself. And to say them out loud. “Research shows that when we write it down, or when we share it out loud, we are statistically much more likely to achieve that goal,” says Elliott. “So broadcast it proudly.”
Your goals don’t have to be big. In fact, starting too big can be overwhelming. Breaking down a goal like “be healthier” into smaller actions is often more sustainable.
Start with these simple heart health hacks. If you incorporate just one a week for the next month, you may be surprised by the big difference small changes can make in your life.
Get up five minutes earlier
Give yourself five minutes to start your day with a few deep breaths or a couple of minutes of meditation. Quickly review all you have to be thankful for and begin your morning in a positive frame of mind. You’ll set the tone for the rest of your day, which reduces your stress level and ultimately helps your heart health.
Replace your first cup of coffee with green tea
Green tea has many proven health benefits, according to the National Institutes of Health. Studies show green tea may help reduce several heart disease risk factors by lowering blood pressure and improving cholesterol levels.
Add one fruit or vegetable to each meal
Even when you have good intentions, it can be hard to fit in the recommended 5-13 servings of fruits and veggies every day. Adding just one fruit or vegetable to every meal can significantly improve your nutrition over time. If that sounds too overwhelming, start by adding just one per day until you’re up to the recommended servings.
Laugh more, laugh often
It’s a proven fact. A good mood and belly laugh can decrease stress hormones, improve cholesterol levels and reduce inflammation in your arteries, according to the American Heart Association.
Focus on what excites you about healthy habits
With heart healthy habits like exercise, people tend to focus on what they dislike more than what they like. You don’t have to enjoy everything about walking or running to enjoy parts of the routine. Maybe you like seeing a friend at the track. Or listening to your favorite music or podcast. Or a hot shower at the end of the day.
To achieve your health goals, it’s helpful to focus on what excites you.
“When we look forward in an eager way, it leads to better performance and more enjoyment,” says Elliott.
Use your community for support
Having a supportive community can help make setting and achieving goals a lot easier.
“Belonging is a big part of what motivates us as humans,” says Elliott. “Use your community to motivate you on your personal goals.”
The time we spend with others as part of a community usually affects our behaviors. As Elliott explains, we are more likely to make decisions that are more intentional and targeted toward a goal when we involve others. It’s also helpful to have a group there for support on off days or when you achieve a success.
How Heart to Start can help
Through Providence, Heart to Start is a community walking and running program that offers a free 12-week training season. It’s a chance to connect with your community through weekly audio podcasts, virtual social meetups and online training tools. You can easily set your goals and track your training – while cheering on and encouraging each other. This virtual community means anyone can join and find the support they need to jumpstart their heart health.
Are you ready to set a goal for your heart health?
COVID-19 and heart conditions
It’s important to note that having a heart condition doesn’t make you more likely to get COVID-19. But having a pre-existing heart condition like high blood pressure, AFib, heart failure or pulmonary disease creates higher risk of more severe infection if you do get COVID-19. That’s because these heart conditions lower the natural reserves your body needs to fight the infection.
There are a few things you can do to take care of your heart and help prevent a heart emergency during this pandemic.
- Keep taking your heart disease medicines (including your high blood pressure and high cholesterol drugs) based on your doctor’s orders.
- Make sure you have at least a 30-day supply of those medicines.
- Call your doctor right away if you have new concerns about your health, especially if you feel sick.
Most important of all, the American Heart Association says, “Don’t die of doubt.” If you experience the first sign of a heart attack or stroke, call 911. Hospitals are still the safest place you can go to receive lifesaving treatment. Don’t delay getting emergency care if you need it.
Find a doctor
When you need help making lifestyle changes to improve your heart health, the cardiologists at Providence partner with you to develop a realistic plan that you can maintain long term. You can find a doctor using our provider directory.
Through Providence Express Care Virtual, you can also access a full range of healthcare services.
This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.
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