No matter your age, keeping your heart in tip-top shape should be on everyone’s list of priorities. Not surprisingly, a neglected heart may lead to cardiovascular disease, and the American College of Cardiology states that cardiovascular disease accounts for 31 percent of global deaths.
It’s easy to come home from a long day at work and lay on the couch, and even easier to eat indulgent foods that make us feel comfortable. But according to James Beckerman, M.D., cardiologist and medical director of prevention at Providence Heart Institute, heart health deserves our attention—and luckily, there are easy ways to do it:
- Automate your exercise. “All of us are busy, whether with work, family or other things we enjoy doing in our free time,” says Dr. Beckerman. “That’s why I automate my exercise. I exercise every day, right after I wake up. When you take away the ‘choice’ component of staying active, it somehow fits into your schedule more seamlessly,” says Beckerman. “And you feel good the rest of the day knowing that you started it right. Try setting your alarm for 30 minutes to an hour before you normally wake up. Designate that time for exercise, and watch as it turns into a habit.”
- Stick to certain menu items. When you go out to eat, have an idea of what you want to order before stepping foot in the restaurant. Visualize heart-healthy foods like salmon and cold-water fish that are high in omega-3’s. Make sure to choose color over starchy foods like potatoes. Broccoli, spinach and carrots are all great choices. Skip the sauces, as pasta sauce and creamy sauces often contain large amounts of sugar. Always go for fresh over canned fruit, and stick to whole grains such as quinoa, farro and brown rice.
- Appreciate food, but don’t overdo it. “I love food,” Beckerman adds, “but I also recognize that not every breakfast or lunch during the work week needs to be an indulgence. I simplify my daytime meals by staying low-carb and vegetarian when I can. By doing this, I can also be more flexible with dinners at home with my family.” Using a smaller plate when you’re at home will help you limit your portions, not to mention the visual cue will trick your brain into thinking you’ve eaten more than you have.
- Meditate often. Chronic stress is known to increase levels of stress hormones like cortisol that can lead to heart disease. To counteract the stressors of daily life, be sure to add meditation or mindfulness to your day. Just a few minutes of deep breathing can make all the difference. If you’re in the office, take a minute to step outside, sit down and practice your breathing. At home, you can try lying down on a mat with your eyes closed, relaxing one muscle group at a time as you take deep breaths. Focus on only your breathing. Do this for at least 15 minutes a day or more. You’ll emerge feeling lighter, happier and, hopefully, less stressed!
- Carry a gym bag. One in three adults don’t meet the threshold for physical activity. If you don’t exercise for at least 30 minutes a day, consider packing a gym bag and keeping it in the car or bringing it with you to work. By having it on you, you won’t have an excuse not to go. Don’t belong to a gym? Take a long walk or a quick jog—any activity that gets your heart pumping and your blood flowing is ideal.
- Get a furry friend. “Getting a dog earlier this year (and a cat a few years prior) was one of the best decisions we made as a family,” shares Beckerman. “The bond you experience with an animal and the perspective you gain from caring for another living thing reminds you of what is important in life. It relaxes me and lets me focus outward.”
- Connect with friends and family. Affection releases oxytocin, a hormone linked to human bonding. It’s often associated with romance because the brain releases oxytocin when we engage in physical contact with another person. However, this feel-good hormone isn’t just limited to our romantic partners. Connecting with friends, family and even a pet you haven’t seen in a while can make you feel happy.
- Keep a journal. Journaling is a great way to relieve stress and anxiety—two major triggers for heart disease. Start writing down a few sentences about your day a couple of times a week, then try writing for longer or writing daily. Journaling helps map out your emotions and also helps you work through problems by visualizing them. Capturing your fears and anger is important, but remember that positivity is key to living a healthy and happy life.
- Catch up on sleep. To function properly, eight hours of good-quality sleep is a must. Try settling into a sleep routine and put away all electronics and distractions if you have trouble sleeping. Sleep deprivation correlates with increased heart rate, inflammation and blood pressure. Meditating before bedtime may help you sleep more soundly, and avoiding caffeine in the middle of the day might ensure you get to bed on time.
- Get screened and schedule preventative visits. To be on the safe side, consider seeing a doctor to find out if you need to be screened for heart disease because preventative visits are just that. They give you a chance to catch any disease before it crops up by alerting you to warning signs or potential problems. Schedule a preventative visit with a Providence health professional if you are concerned about how much exercise you should be getting, if you’re feeling overly tired or stressed, or if you have dietary concerns. Other important screenings include a blood pressure check, lipid screening, weight check, a cardiac physical exam, and review of family history.
Cardiologists know the importance of heart health, and now you have a better idea of how to take care of yours. If you’re ready to take a deep dive into best practices for keeping your heart in good shape, no matter your age, speak to a medical professional at Providence today. You can also visit our Healthy Living online library for resources on how to live your best life.