By Jessica Babare, DO, CardioVascular Solutions Institute –
It’s a New Year and with it comes, what else, New Year’s resolutions! As a cardiologist, my patients often want to know what they can do to help live better lives and have healthier bodies. From my perspective, leading a healthy life, and staying out of the cardiologist’s office, for that matter, can be accomplished with a few simple practices. Studies have repeatedly shown that up to 85% of all cardiovascular diseases are preventable with heart healthy lifestyle, and it’s this one simple fact that I wish more people would fully come to understand. Even those of us, myself included, who come from families riddled with cardiovascular disease have tremendous power over the quality of our cardiovascular health and wellbeing! So, for those of you curious to know what you might do in this New Year to live a healthier life and reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease, you may find the following resolutions of great benefit!
Resolve to stop smoking
As a cardiologist, there is no one thing that I see patients doing that is more dangerous to their overall health and wellbeing than that of cigarette smoking! Many people are not aware of how dangerous smoking is to their cardiovascular health. They have been taught that smoking may lead to lung cancer, but do not realize that smoking is a large contributor to all manner of vascular diseases! Smoking is a leading cause of heart attacks, strokes, peripheral arterial disease, and amputations of limbs. Not only is smoking an expensive habit when factoring in the cost of the cigarettes, but the overall cost of the toll on the body and the resulting medical expense, is an incalculable sum!
Resolve to eat heart healthy
Eating heart healthy is one of the most important things you can do to improve your overall health and wellbeing! To eat heart healthy means to eat as natural a diet as possible, a diet devoid of processed and manufactured foods. A heart healthy diet is rich in plant based foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and beans. To eat heart healthy means to minimize meat and dairy, especially red meat and pork and any dairy products that aren’t fat free such as cheese and butter. Begin to think of meat as a garnish or a flavoring and add it in sparingly to a dish, not as the main event. If eating meat, try to eat small portions, and focus on leaner meats such as fish or lean poultry. Look for ways to eat meatless meals, even if it’s only one day per week, knowing that a diet rich in plant-based foods is a far healthier way to eat. Minimize dietary sodium intake and eliminate all fried foods from your diet. When cooking or sautéing, use broth or water to cook with instead of oils. Don’t add any oils to your foods after they’ve been cooked, trying as much as possible to only obtain your dietary intake of oils from the natural food source of origin. For example, from eating nuts, olives, oily fish like salmon, and avocados.
Resolve to manage your stress
A life lived out of emotional balance is a significant contributor to overall cardiac risk. Studies show that people who live in chronic negative emotional states are at higher risk for all manner of cardiac events: high blood pressure, heart attacks, arrhythmias, and stroke. Emotions such as anger, resentment, and anxiety, not only lead to a poor quality of life, they also contribute to poor physical health as well. Also linked to an overall increase in cardiac mortality and morbidity is depression. Studies show that, not only do depressed people have more heart attacks, but they also have are more likely to have worse outcomes following their heart attacks than do their counterparts who are not depressed.
Managing emotional health and stressors is one of the more difficult things for most people to do. Many people feel that they cannot have a positive change in their emotional state until the stressors they feel are responsible for their sadness or worries are gone. But, in reality, we need not have a change in our personal life experience for us to begin to change the way we perceive the situations that have stressed us. We can seek out opportunities to reduce our stress by engaging in physical exercise, finding ways to be more active and spend less time in worry. Make it a habit to spend more time doing things we love, such as spending time with friends, getting out in nature, or curled up with a good book or heart-warming movie. We can engage in stress reducing activities such as yoga or taking walks. Make it a priority to focus on the positive aspects of your life by keeping a gratitude journal and engaging in prayer or meditation. Anything you can do to improve your overall emotional wellbeing will positively affect your overall heart health.
Resolve to exercise
Keeping physically fit is one of the most powerful ways that we can improve and maintain our overall health and wellbeing! Studies show that even simple exercises such as walking or taking the stairs when out and about contribute significantly to a person’s overall health. Regular exercise, especially weight bearing exercise, will reduce your risk for osteoporosis and related fractures. Not only does regular exercise serve to reduce stress, improve cardiovascular conditioning, and help you maintain a healthy body weight, it can also help you recover more quickly should you ever have a setback such as a heart attack or major illness.
Resolve to achieve and maintain a healthy body weight
Being healthy and fit is important, no matter what your weight, but studies show that even modest amounts of excess weight contribute significantly to our overall cardiovascular risk. People with excess weight are at higher risk for other diseases that contribute to poor cardiac health such as high blood pressure, elevated blood cholesterol, diabetes, and sleep apnea. Even small improvements in overall body weight, when obtained following a heart healthy diet and active lifestyle are tremendously beneficial to a person’s overall cardiovascular health.
Resolve to get a good night’s sleep
Getting a good night’s rest is important to overall cardiac health and wellbeing. Being well rested lowers a person’s overall stress level, contributes to better regulation of our blood glucose levels and blood pressure, and an allows for optimal function of our immune system. Good sleep habits include keeping a regular sleep/wake routine by keeping your same bedtime from day to day. As bedtime approaches, make it a habit to bring your mind to a place of stillness by minimizing any stimulating activities such as TV or loud music. Although keeping a regular exercise routine is a great way to improve overall mood and quality of sleep, try not to do vigorous exercise too close to bedtime as this may prevent the body from relaxing easily into sleep.
Although this list of resolutions may seem daunting, do not fear that you could not accomplish many, if not all of these goals, should you set your mind to it! If keeping this list of resolutions seems too much to tackle all at once, choose one or two goals to focus on for the time being, adding to your list of goals as you can achieve them. Even small strides towards leading a heart healthy lifestyle will provide you with tremendous benefit!
No matter where you are in your health journey, here’s to you and to the happiest and healthiest of New Years! I shall be joining you in striving toward a healthy and happy 2014!!
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