Ways to keep a healthy heart
What does it take to have a healthy heart?
While it helps to have a family health history that’s free of cardiovascular disease, there’s a lot you can do to improve your heart health. You just have to concentrate on two things: exercising and eating right.
That’s because physical activity and healthy nutrition positively influence most of the risk factors that contribute to heart disease, including high blood pressure, high cholesterol, obesity and diabetes.
“In Stanislaus and San Joaquin counties and across the United States we are in the midst of an obesity epidemic for two reasons: We are often eating too much of the wrong foods and not exercising enough,” observes Michael Zhu, M.D., medical director of Cardiac Cath Lab and Chief of Cardiology, Kaiser Permanente Central Valley. “Exercising and maintaining good nutrition habits are the foundation to preventing coronary disease.”
An added bonus: people who are active and eat right have stronger immune systems and lower risks of other serious diseases, like cancer.
Get up and go
The American Heart Association recommends at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity at least five days per week, for a total of 150 minutes.
“This could be as simple as a brisk walk,” Dr. Zhu says. “It’s vital to engage in some kind of physical activity that gets the body’s large muscle groups moving.”
A recent study found that every minute of exercise leads to seven extra minutes of added life expectancy, Dr. Zhu notes. “Do the math: The more we exercise, the longer we live.”
Focus on fresh and unprocessed
“The nutritional aspect of preventing or fighting heart disease is a very simple formula: We need to eat foods that are low in cholesterol, high in fiber and low in salt and sugar,” says Dr. Zhu.
If you want to eat more healthfully, you’ll find that eating a variety of nutritious foods in moderation will help you succeed.
“Preparing meals at home tends to be healthier than eating out at restaurants, so make a concerted effort to buy fresh produce, avoid processed foods and be mindful of portion control,” Dr. Zhu advises.
In addition to exercising and eating right, follow these tips to enhance your heart health.
Don’t smoke and avoid secondhand smoke. If you do smoke, you can reduce your risk of heart disease by quitting.
Limit alcohol. For men, limit alcohol to an average of one to two drinks per day; for women, one drink per day.
Keep total cholesterol below 200 mg/dL. Check your cholesterol at least once every five years, or more often if you have additional risk factors for heart disease.
Keep blood pressure below 120/80. Since high blood pressure has no symptoms, get yours checked regularly.
Monitor and control blood sugar levels as prescribed by your physician if you have diabetes.
Maintain a healthy weight. Ask your doctor to help determine a healthy range for you.
Manage stress. Get exercise and six to eight hours of sleep each night and reduce stress with meditation and volunteering.