BY DR. GINA FIDLER, DNP, FNP-C
Did you know that heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States? In fact, one person dies every thirty-three seconds from cardiovascular disease. Although these statistics are alarming, the good news is that around eighty percent of heart diseases are preventable.
Lifestyle changes such as refraining from smoking and reducing high blood pressure and high cholesterol are among the heavy hitters for reducing your risk for heart disease. Other ways to improve your heart health include: following a heart healthy diet, reducing excessive alcohol use, routinely exercising, maintaining a healthy weight, preventing diabetes, getting enough sleep, and managing stress.
In honor of American Heart Month, let’s give the hardest-working organ in our body a little love! We will discuss lifestyle tips to keep your heart strong and healthy for years to come.
What foods does your heart love?
Your diet creates the foundation for your heart health. Here are some tips to eat your way to a healthier heart:
• Eat a variety of fruits and vegetables. Fruits and vegetables are great sources of vitamins, minerals, and dietary fiber, and they are also low in calories. They contain substances like antioxidants that may help prevent cardiovascular disease. Aim to eat the rainbow!
• Pick whole grains over refined grains. Whole grains are not only high in fiber, which help to keep you feeling full longer, they also help to regulate your blood pressure and heart health. Examples: Brown rice, quinoa, oatmeal, whole-grain bread, and whole-grain pasta.
• Opt for low-fat protein sources. Instead of consuming processed meats, red meats, and high-fat dairy products, try plant-based protein, lean meat and poultry, eggs, seafood, legumes, and low-fat dairy. Example: swap in greek yogurt instead of sour cream.
• Eat fish at least twice a week. Cold-water fish (salmon, cod, tuna, etc.) contain high amounts of omega-3 fatty acids which support heart health, lower triglycerides (fat in blood), and reduce your risk for a heart attack and stroke.
• Use healthy fats and oils. Moderation is key here as all fats are high in calories. Choose unsaturated fats instead of saturated or trans fats. Nuts, seeds, and avocados are good unsaturated fat options. When reaching for an oil, choose a non-tropical vegetable oil, such as canola and olive oil instead of coconut or palm oil.
• Choose minimally processed foods. Processed foods are usually low in fiber and contain too much sugar, sodium, and fat, which increases your risk for heart disease. A few tricks are to shop the perimeter of the grocery store where foods closest to their original form are located, cook more meals from home, and avoid foods that come from a box or fast food window.
• Subtract added sugars. Consuming too much added sugar can lead to not-so-sweet consequences, such as chronic inflammation and high blood pressure. The most common offenders are: sugary beverages (regular soft drinks, mixed alcoholic drinks, coffee sweeteners, sweetened tea, energy drinks, and fruit drinks), candy, and desserts.
• Ditch the added salt. Eating too much salt can lead to high blood pressure, which is a risk factor for heart disease. Instead, try seasoning your food with lemon juice, garlic, ground black pepper, as well as various herbs and spices.
Consuming too much alcohol can damage your heart muscle and lead to high blood pressure. Alcohol in moderation equates to one to two drinks per day for men and no more than one drink per day for women.
These products are among the worst offenders for your heart health. The chemicals absorbed by your body from these products not only increase LDL (“bad” cholesterol) levels while decreasing HDL (“healthy” cholesterol) levels, they also damage the heart and blood vessels, which can lead to plaque buildup in your arteries and the development of blood clots. Quitting is one of the best ways to reduce your risk of developing and potentially dying from heart disease. Choose a quit date, stick to it, and connect with your provider if you need more support to help you quit.
More movement does the heart good.
Get active for at least 150 minutes per week with moderate heart-pumping aerobic activities that produce at least a light sweat. Think brisk walking, jogging, swimming, cycling, or dancing. You can also find a workout class or buddy to help you achieve your goals.
Maintain a healthy body weight.
Achieving and then maintaining a healthy weight is one of the best things you can do for your heart. To lose weight, focus on taking in fewer calories than you burn throughout the day. Connect with your provider if you aren’t sure if you are at a healthy weight or need extra support .
Get your Zzz’s.
Getting a good night’s sleep is vital to your heart health. Aim for an average of 7-9 hours of sleep per night. Ensure good sleep hygiene by setting a consistent bedtime (even on the weekends), getting enough natural light earlier in the day, avoiding artificial light from electronics close to bedtime, eating a few hours before bedtime, and ensuring your bedroom is cool, dark, and quiet.
Chronic stress can cause higher than normal levels of cortisol, your body’s main stress hormone, and increase inflammation throughout your body. This can lead to an increase in your blood pressure, blood cholesterol, and triglycerides among many other detrimental health consequences. Top stress management tips: take breaks from news stories, get organized, accept your limits, connect with your loved ones, cuddle with a pet, engage in light exercise, practice meditation and mindfulness, try deep breathing exercises, listen to your favorite music, journal, and give back or volunteer your time.
Monitor your heart health.
Work with your provider to ensure you are getting yearly physical exams to monitor your heart health. Depending on your age and health status, these checks may be more often and include (but are not limited to): vital signs, BMI calculation, waist circumference, EKG, blood tests (lipid profile, blood glucose test, BNP, and advanced testing such as: oxidized LDL, lipofraction NMR, lipoprotein (a), apolipoprotein B, high sensitivity C-reactive protein, homocysteine, TMAO, ADMA/SDMA, MPO, etc.), calcium score, cardiac stress test, carotid ultrasound, echocardiogram, and calculation of your atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease (ASCVD) risk score.
Dr. Gina Fidler is a doctorally-prepared and board-certified advanced practice family nurse practitioner with over eighteen years of experience in healthcare. She is the owner of the new wellness practice, Wash Park Health, and she is also a long-term resident of Wash Park. She has extensive experience in integrative and functional medicine, bringing concierge primary care and wellness services to the local community. Her office is located in the heart of Wash Park on South Gaylord St.
If you would like to work on your heart health or other health goals, give us a call, or book a free consultation on our website. We manage the most common heart conditions and offer advanced cardiovascular health testing to assess your current heart risk. We would love to partner with you on your journey to optimal health! Visit www.washparkhealth.com, or call 303-923-2344 for more information.