Heart Health Is About More Than Food and Exercise

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By Katherine Cork on January 31, 2017

According to the American Heart Association (AHA), about one in every three deaths in America is from heart disease, stroke or other cardiovascular diseases---more than all forms of cancer combined.
 
“A lot of heart health is about healthy eating and weight management, which includes exercise,” said Sybil Calhoun, a registered nurse in Cardiopulmonary Rehabilitation at Carilion Clinic. “But dealing effectively with stress, staying hydrated, getting plenty of sleep and not smoking are also very important.”
 
Below, Sybil shares some thoughts on how you can stay heart healthy.

FOOD:

When it comes the food you eat, pay attention to portion sizes and what’s on your plate. Concentrate on eating fruits and vegetables, whole grains like oats and brown rice and lean proteins like chicken and turkey. The AHA suggests making sure there is plenty of color on your plate–fruits and vegetables come in every color of the rainbow!

EXERCISE:

Getting 30 minutes of exercise five days a week is recommended, and depending on your level of fitness, that can range from a walk around the neighborhood to a strenuous class at a gym. Movement is what matters; get your family and friends involved and make exercise fun!

STRESS:

Everyone has stress in their life, but too much stress can be bad for your health.
 
“We have found that some patients who are exercising and eating like they’re supposed to are not dealing with stress well and that’s a big factor in their health,” said Sybil.
 
The first step is to be aware of the stress in your life. There is good stress (buying a new home that you can afford) and bad stress (not being able to make a payment). The next step is finding healthy ways to deal with your stress so it doesn’t affect your health.
 
“Different ways of coping with stress work for different people–maybe its exercise, meditation or prayer, or just stopping for a moment to breathe deeply,” Sybil suggested.  
 
Managing your stress will go a long way toward keeping your heart healthy and keeping you from feeling overwhelmed.

SMOKING:

Smoking is a major risk factor for heart disease, according to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. It damages your blood cells and blood vessels, and if combined with other risk factors like high blood pressure or obesity, the risk is even greater. If you smoke, think hard about quitting. No matter how long you’ve been a smoker, quitting now will improve your heart health.

SLEEP:

If you are an adult age 18-64, you need 7-9 hours of sleep per night to be sure your body gets to sufficiently recharge from the day. The National Sleep Foundation reports that people who sleep fewer than six hours a night are significantly more likely to have a stroke or heart attack than people who sleep more. Plus, when you’re tired, you’re more likely to give in to food cravings, which are usually foods that aren’t very good for you.

CHECKUPS: 

One of the most important ways to stay heart healthy is to have a checkup once a year with your family doctor. Have your blood pressure and cholesterol checked; if you have a family history of heart disease, your doctor may also do other tests. Your doctor is your best resource for advice on how to improve your habits and lifestyle.