New Year’s resolutions often come and go as quickly as the latest diet craze. For those interested in a more balanced approach to health and wellness in 2016, try following the American Heart Associations’ Life’s Simple 7– easy to follow guidelines designed to improve not only your heart health, but also the quality of your life.
Crafted to ensure that anyone can make these changes, the seven steps are inexpensive and garner great results with even modest improvements in your daily actions:
1. Manage Blood Pressure – If you don’t know what your BP is, please have it checked. This can be done at a doctor’s office (an annual wellness exam is always a good idea), or you can use an automated machine at your local drug store. High blood pressure is a major risk factor for heart disease and stroke. When your blood pressure stays within healthy ranges, you reduce the strain on your heart, arteries and kidneys – this keeps you healthier longer.
2. Control Cholesterol – Diet, exercise and stress reduction can work wonders for lowering blood pressure and cholesterol. If you don’t know what your HDL and LDL are (or even what these terms mean), its time to visit your doctor and have your numbers checked. High cholesterol contributes to plaque, which can clog arteries and lead to heart disease and stroke. When you control your cholesterol, you give your arteries their best chance to remain clear of blockages.
3. Reduce Blood Sugar – Much of the food we eat is turned into glucose (or blood sugar) that our bodies use for energy. While some research suggests the body needs six to nine teaspoons of glucose each day, many of us are consuming far greater quantities than that, sometimes in one meal. Over time, high levels of blood sugar can damage your heart, kidneys, eyes and nerves.
4. Get Active – Recent news stories have stated “sitting is the new smoking,” meaning that a sedentary lifestyle of sitting at a desk all day, or in front of the TV all evening, is damaging our bodies and taking years off our lives. Living an active life is one of the most rewarding gifts you can give yourself and those you love. Simply put, daily physical activity increases both the length and quality of your life.
5. Eat Better – A healthy diet is one of our best weapons for fighting cardiovascular disease and maintaining overall health. A heart-healthy diet, high in vegetables, fruits, lean meats, healthy fats (avocado, nuts) and whole grains is also good for your entire body. When you eat a heart-healthy diet, you improve your chances for feeling good and staying healthy – for life!
6. Lose Weight – But, only if you need to do so. Be honest! When you shed extra fat and unnecessary pounds, you reduce the burden on your heart, lungs, blood vessels and skeleton. When you give yourself the gift of active living, you lower your blood pressure and help yourself feel better, too.
7. Stop Smoking – Yes, you’ve heard this before and you’ll hear it again…and again. Cigarette smokers have a higher risk of developing cardiovascular disease. If you smoke, quitting is the best thing you can do for your health. Not only does it help your heart, but also it improves overall health and wellbeing.
If you’ve had issues sticking with resolutions, diets or other health-related changes in the past, start small – one or two to get you going and step it up from there. Remember, progress not perfection!
If you’re Internet savvy and would like some accountability, log onto Heart.org and search for My Life Check® to get the “My heart score” by taking this online assessment (offered in English and Spanish and available from the desktop or Smartphone).
This simple online tool provides you a Heart Health Score with recommendations to make improvements and track your progress. Come prepared, you’ll need some basic health information to answer the questions – height, weight, blood pressure, etc.
Whether you join in these efforts online or stay off the grid, the goal of Life’s Simple 7 is straightforward…to live a long, productive, healthy life.
For more information on Life’s Simple 7 and My Life Check®, please visit Heart.org, or call 1 (800) 242.8721. To reach the Southwest Florida Office of the American Heart Association, please call 239.498.9288.