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Heart Health

Reviewed by Melanie Blake, MD, MBA, Lifestyle Medicine at Galen

 

The field of lifestyle medicine has emerged from an extensive body of research that supports the impact daily habits and actions have on our short and long-term health. The Nurses’ Health Study has shown that 80% of all heart disease in women could be eliminated if a cluster of positive lifestyle practices including regular physical activity and improving nutrition were adopted. The US Health Professionals Study found dramatic reductions in the risk of chronic disease in men as well. If individuals adopted even one positive behavior, their risk in developing coronary artery disease could be cut in half!

This month, for American Heart Month, we want to shed light on how healthy daily habits can greatly improve our heart health. 

 

The Power of Healthy Lifestyle Habits on the Heart

Physical Activity

Without regular physical activity, our bodies slowly lose its strength and ability to function well. Regular physical activity has numerous benefits from reducing stress to helping you quit smoking. 

Aerobic exercise involves the use of large muscles of your legs and arms and can help your heart work more efficiently and lower the risk of cardiovascular disease if done regularly. Here are some examples of aerobic physical activities you can incorporate:

  • Brisk walking
  • Biking
  • Jogging 
  • Swimming

Start small and try working towards the recommended 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity or 75 minutes of vigorous activity weekly. In addition to your regular physical activity routine, you can add more to your day by playing with children or pets, taking the stairs, or doing household chores.

Nutrition

The food we consume plays a large role in reducing our cardiovascular risk. Here are some lifestyle habits we can incorporate:

  • Eat a vegetable and fruit rich diet.
  • Consume oily fish regularly –  Oily fishes such as salmon, tuna, and trout have omega-3 fatty acids which helps protect against cardiovascular disease and can also protect the heart during times of mental stress. It is recommended to have oily fish at least 2 times a week.
  • Reduce sodium intake – Extra sodium in your bloodstream can put more burden on your heart and blood vessels therefore having less sodium in your diet may help lower or avoid high blood pressure.
  • Minimize consumption of sugar sweetened beverages.

Mental Health

Stress is what happens when your body responds to change. Although the link between stress and heart disease is still unclear, unhealthy responses to stress may lead to health problems over time. It is important to learn how to recognize your stress, reflect on how best to deal with it, and develop healthy habits when easing stress. Here are some healthy ways to cope with stress:

  • Turn negative thoughts into positive ones – instead of “I can’t do this,” say “I am going to do my best.”
  • Take time every day to relax and breathe deeply.
  • Engage in regular physical activity.

Avoiding Risky Substances

Limiting alcohol consumption can help prevent high blood pressure. If you drink alcohol, limit your consumption to no more than two drinks per day for men and no more than one drink per day for women as recommended by the American Heart Association. If cutting back on alcohol is difficult, ask a healthcare provider about getting help. 

Smoking is the leading preventable cause of death in the United States. Cigarette smoking affects almost every tissue and organ in our body and significantly increases the risk of heart disease. Smoking reduces the oxygen-rich blood in our bodies and increases the impact of other risk factors including blood pressure, cholesterol, and physical inactivity. Good news is the risk of it diminishes rapidly once you stop. Deciding to quit is a huge step and isn’t always easy, but you are not alone—others have quit, and you can too!

 

Lifestyle Medicine at Galen can provide you with great resources to help you make the lifestyle choices you need to reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke. As a lifestyle and internal medicine physician, Dr. Melanie Blake works with patients to define what is healthy and motivate them to take the appropriate steps to accomplish their health goals. Call and set up an appointment today so we can help you make positive lifestyle changes!