You walked out of the doctor’s room with some medication for your heart and a list of changes you need to make in your lifestyle. Ever wondered what lifestyle changes are required for a healthy heart and how do these changes affect your body?
An experienced cardiologist in Gurgaon shares his point of view,
Well, the truth is that only medications cannot cure heart disease. They help control it, but your every day habits also play an important role in keeping your heart healthy. Certain risk factors like age, heart issues in the family, etc. are beyond your control, but others like smoking, obesity and unhealthy diet are lifestyle choices that you can change towards a healthy heart and healthy you.
Health Benefits of a Healthy Heart Lifestyle
- Lowered blood pressure
- Lowered bad cholesterol and blood fat (triglyceride) levels
- Lowered risk of heart attack, stroke
- Prolonged life
- Improved efficacy of medication or eliminating their need entirely
Below are certain lifestyle zones that seek attention when working towards a healthy heart goal:
Change #1. Quit Smoking
Smoking is probably the most harmful activity for not just your lungs but also your heart and blood vessels. Here’s how:
- Smoking lowers the amount of oxygen, and instead increases the levels of carbon monoxide in the bloodstream, creating an urgent need of oxygen for your heart. Unable to get the required oxygen, the heart is susceptible to a heart attack.
- Any kind of smoking is harmful for the heart, including breathing second-hand smoke from those around you.
- Nicotine in cigarettes causes blood vessels to tighten, leading to increased blood pressure and an increased workload for your heart.
The only solution for a healthy heart is to quit smoking. The benefits are many:
- Blood pressure goes down; blood flow improves
- Oxygen levels in blood return to normal; breathing improves
- Carbon monoxide levels in blood reduce; coughing and shortness of breath decreases
Change #2. Exercise Regularly
Remaining inactive is another bad thing you can do if you have heart disease or are at risk of developing it, as it can lead to the following:
- Increased body weight
- Diabetes (a heart disease risk factor)
- High blood pressure
- Deterioration of heart condition
Regular exercise reduces your risk to all above factors that put a strain on the heart. Physical activity of moderate intensity for 30 to 60 minutes on most days of the week is beneficial.
For people with busy lifestyles that does not allow them a set time for exercise, the good news is that breaking up exercise sessions into three 10-minute workouts offer the same heart benefits as one long session of 30 minutes.
Also, routine activities like taking the stairs, walking the dog, housekeeping chores, etc. all count towards the total. Small steps like walking to the market instead of taking the car or alighting from the bus a couple of stops behind increase your activity level. The key is to remain active throughout the day – increasing the frequency, intensity, and duration of the exercise program can result in bigger benefits.
Change #3. Eat Balanced Diet
Healthy food choices like controlling the portion size and reading food labels carefully before purchasing a food item are helpful in maintaining a proper body weight and diabetes, thereby leading to a healthy heart. In terms of food choices, a heart-healthy diet should include foods that are low in cholesterol, fat and sodium.
Foods to include in diet are:
- Whole-grain foods (whole wheat, brown rice, oatmeal, etc.)
- Eating more fruits and vegetables, especially those that are deeply coloured like spinach, carrots, berries, etc.
- Poultry, fish
- Low-fat dairy products
Foods to avoid are:
- Total fat, saturated fat, trans fat and cholesterol
- Sweets and added sugars, sweetened beverages
- Red meat
Cut Salt Intake
Sodium is a chemical found in salt and processed food. It makes the blood pressure rise by increasing fluid retention. Lowering the amount of salt in your diet lowers the amount of fluid your body holds on to and further helps lower blood pressure and the strain on your heart. Limiting sodium intake to 1500 mg per day yields the greatest benefit. You can limit your salt intake in diet by reading food labels closely, rinsing canned food before using it, and substituting salt with herbs and spices when cooking.
Change #4. Manage Body Weight
Excess body weight increases your risk of higher blood pressure, higher cholesterol and diabetes, all of which can lead to heart disease. Whether your current weight is linked to an increased risk of heart disease can be checked in two ways:
- Body mass index (BMI)
- Waist circumference
Body mass index (BMI)
BMI is used as a standard indicator in determining if an adult individual is at a healthy weight or not. BMI is a mathematical formula that considers a person’s height and weight in determining obesity.
Body mass index (BMI) = Weight (kg)/Height (m)
- BMI below 18.5 = Underweight
- BMI 18.5 – 24.9 = Normal
- BMI 25.0 – 29.9 = Overweight
- BMI 30.0 and above = Obesity
Waist circumference – Waist circumference measures the waist size, just above the belly button. It is a good predictor of abdominal fat, which is a risk factor of heart disease. Risk of heart disorders increases with a waist circumference that exceeds 40 inches in men and 35 inches in women.
If overweight, even a five to ten per cent reduction in body weight can reduce your risk to heart disease.
Change #5. Manage Stress
Stress affects the heart in the following way:
- It causes emotions like anger that can trigger a heart attack
- Your reaction mechanism in coping with stress (smoking, drinking excess alcohol, and overeating) can be dangerous for your heart.
Dealing with stress in a timely manner can protect your heart. Some techniques to help you manage stress include:
- Talk to family, friends or join a support group
Get started on making healthy lifestyle changes
Altering every day habits may not happen overnight, and it might seem overwhelming to make so many changes. Here are some ways to get on the heart-healthy track:
- Identify your risk factors and create a plan focused around it.
- Pick one lifestyle area to begin with – write down your goals and steps to achieve them. Aim to build these changes into a routine.
- Involve your family, friends or local support groups. You can even seek the help of health care professional to find relevant resources. A dietician can help you devise a healthy meal plan.
- Finally, reward yourself and celebrate every milestone achieved – and then get ready for the next goal!
The article was written by Credihealth Cardiology Experts:
Credihealth is a medical assistance company that gives guidance to a patient from the first consultation through the entire hospitalisation process. A team of in-house Credihealth doctors helps the patient find the right doctor, book appointment, request cost estimate for procedures and manage admission & discharge processes.
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