by Noel Peterson, MD, FACC, FASE | Eastern Cardiology, Greenville, NC
Director of Women’s Cardiovascular Disease and Preventative Cardiology for the East Carolina Heart Institute
“You don’t have anything if you don’t have your health”. To be healthy is truly a gift bestowed upon us and it is usually taken for granted, oftentimes until it is too late. Keeping your heart healthy it the best holiday gift that you can give yourself, as well as your family.
So, let’s start with a complete heart health checkup. If it’s been awhile since you’ve had one, or if you’ve never had one, now is the perfect time to get it done. This will help you identify any issues that may need to be dealt with and create a treatment plan customized for you.
Identify steps that you need to take to optimize your health. Write them down and come up with a plan for how you are going to achieve them. Write down not only the changes you want to make, but how exactly you will make them. For example: “I want to lose 5 pounds by January 30, 2020 and I will do this by adding vegetables to every meal, walking 15 minutes each day and staying away from sweets and sugary sodas.” Define your why. When you have a reason, it makes it easier to stick with your plan.
The best way to come up with a plan is to talk to or get advice from people who have accomplished similar goals. If you want to be successful, seek out an individual who has lost weight, started an exercise program or quit smoking. You may have to get advice from multiple people – what may work for one person may not resonate with you.
Healthy foods provide the building blocks that help to fuel our bodies and help us fight inflammation and disease. A diet consisting of vegetables, lean protein sources, healthy fats, whole grains, and fruits, while cutting back on processed meats and added sugar helps your body create the energy needed to thrive and fight disease. Remember, portion control is essential. Even though certain foods may be considered healthy they may still contain a lot of calories. A typical serving of nuts is amount that fits in the palm of your hand, protein is about the size of a deck of cards, and for whole grains about the size of a baseball.
If you have too much body fat – especially in the belly – you are at higher risk for high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol, and heart disease. Even losing 5-10 pounds can help to reduce your risk. What to do: Calculate your body mass index, which consists of your height and weight. Break it down into small goals (5lb at a time) and reward yourself with a non-food treat like a new book, a manicure or massage.
Do you smoke or use tobacco? Quitting smoking is the single most important thing that you can do to reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease. Cigarette smokers have a higher risk for developing cardiovascular disease. Smoking damages the vessels in your circulatory system and causes inflammation in blood vessels. This leads to formation of plaque, blood clots and aneurysms. In addition, cigarettes and cigarette smoke damages your lungs as well as decreasing your bodies levels of good protective HDL cholesterol. Utilize resources such as Quit Now. Remove all the lighters, ashtrays, tobacco products from your house. Make your home and vehicles smoke free. You will feel better, look better (less wrinkles), smell better and save a ton of money.
Get on an exercise plan that fits your age and general overall health. Everyone needs to start somewhere. Start slowly with 5-10 min and then add 5 min every week. Cardio exercise includes any activity that would cause you to feel short of breath if you were to carry on a conversation. If you can have a full conversation you need to increase the intensity. YouTube can be a good resource for instructions of how to start a work-out plan. Have a friend or family member join you, having an accountability partner dramatically increases your change of success.
Being physically active increases the longevity and quality of your life. The current goals are a minimum of 30 min of moderate physical activity (such as brisk walking, jogging, riding a bike) 5 days a week. Not only will you feel better, you will decrease your risk of heart disease, stroke, and diabetes.
Stress is rampant in our lives, especially this time of year. You will never be able to eliminate stress; however, you can control how you deal with stress. Learn not to “sweat the small stuff”. Take mini-breaks throughout the day, a 2 min close your eyes and focus on breathing a few times a day while at work or at home will help give your mind a rest. Schedule me time every day and read a book, meditate, go for a walk, do stretching/yoga/pilates whatever relaxes you. Get off of Facebook/Instagram/snapchat. When you are comparing your life to other people that can create a source of stress.
Lastly, don’t fear failure. The beauty of life is that you can always start over. Bad habits take time to change and we occasionally let them creep back in. Don’t beat yourself up over any “slippage,” just start again. Eventually you’ll notice the change, particularly in how much better your feeling.
Your heart will appreciate the gift of health, as will your family and loved ones.