Protect Your Heart With Six Easy Habit Changes
No matter your actual age it’s always a good time to assess your lifestyle habits and get a handle on your health. Making small but important changes to your lifestyle will produce major results overall, and with each day lived practicing this healthy lifestyle, it’s another day towards living longer and avoiding heart disease. The secret is to commit to these changes and practice them every day.
Most of us don’t realize the power we have to improve our health, so many of us don’t even try or give up before we really get started. But if you start living a healthier lifestyle today, just think how much healthier you’ll be a year from now, 20, or even 30 years from now. If you were to be really honest with yourself, wouldn't you want to live a long and healthy life?
Six Healthy Habits for a Long and Healthy Life
Heart Healthy Diet
On the top of the list is, without a doubt, nutrition. It’s the very fuel that keeps the body going, and the nourishment it needs to maintain optimal health. So many health conditions can be improved or reversed by paying attention to your dietary habits. If you’re getting too much of one thing and not enough of another, then your health will inevitably suffer.
The Truth about Trans Fats
Trans fats are used abundantly in many products from processed, packaged foods to restaurant and take-out foods. Trans fats are cheap and extend a product’s shelf life, so manufacturers favor them; however, they are detrimental to your health.
To show you how serious trans fats can be, the FDA has ordered a ban to phase out the use of trans fats by 2018. This order comes after reviewing several years of scientific research and studies. It is clear that trans fats can cause life-threatening disease.
Why Are Trans Fats So Bad?
- Difficult to digest
- Remain in the body
- Interfere with metabolism of other fats and proteins
- Raise LDL (bad) cholesterol
- Lower HDL (good) cholesterol
- Precursor to type 2 diabetes, stroke or heart attack
When it comes to trans fats, the best course of action for your heart is to stay away from them. You can find trans fats in these foods:
- Deep-fried, breaded, and fast foods
- Bakery products
- Packaged snack foods (vending machine snacks!)
- Margarine, hydrogenated and partially hydrogenated oils
- Crackers, cookies, chips
- Many processed foods and sauces
- Many restaurant foods and take-out foods
Trans fats also lurk in products under the names, PHO or partially hydrogenated oils. Another thing to bear in mind when you’re reading the nutritional panel on the label is that manufacturers are only required to list trans fats in quantities higher than .49 grams.
If you’re trying to lower your cholesterol, the recommended daily amount of saturated fats is 5 to 6 percent of total calories, or about 100 calories (about 11 grams). This is based on an average diet of 2000 calories, as set out by the American Heart Association (AHA).
Animal Sources of Saturated Fats
- Poultry with skin
- Dairy-based products made from whole or 2 percent milk
Plant-Based Sources of Saturated Fats
- Coconut oil
- Palm oil and palm kernel oil (often called tropical oils)
- Cocoa butter
The thing about coconut is that it’s extremely high in saturated fat, yet it can also elevate good cholesterol. One serving will set you back 12 grams, so just make sure to monitor your intake.
Unsaturated, Healthy Fats
Polyunsaturated and Monounsaturated – when it comes to healthy fats, these are the ones you want to include in your diet by as much as 25 to 35 percent, according to the AHA.
Best Sources of MUFA and PUFA
- Olive oil (extra virgin oil is great on salads and vegetables)
- Fish such as salmon, trout, herring
- Avocados, olives, walnuts
- Liquid vegetable oils: olive, sunflower, canola
- Omega-3 fish oils
A diet that replaces saturated and trans fats with polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats can improve your cholesterol and overall heart health. The Mediterranean Diet and DASH are two examples of heart-healthy nutrition plans that can lower cholesterol and increase longevity.
Eat More Fiber
Fiber comes in many forms like bran and whole grains, fruits and vegetables, seeds and nuts, but one of the best sources for heart-healthy fiber is oatmeal.
Provided you’re eating whole grain oats, then you’re getting the benefit of a component of fiber called beta-glucan that can lower LDL cholesterol. For the optimum benefit, though, you would need to eat 1 ½ cups of oatmeal a day. So try bumping up the fiber content of your oatmeal by adding some oat bran. You can also find beta-glucan in barley, shiitake mushrooms and seaweed
Ideally, you want to stick to a balanced diet of whole, fresh foods, and avoid processed food. As you get older, you’ll require fewer calories, but need more protein. So aim for a high-protein, low-fat diet that is high in fiber and rich in antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals.
Exercise for Life
With so many fitness trackers and walking programs out there, it’s even easier to get motivated about getting fit. All it takes is a few minutes of moderate physical activity a day to keep your heart happy. It doesn’t matter what kind of exercise it is, just as long as you’re working your heart.
The Surgeon General recommends “30 minutes or more of moderate-intensity physical activity on all, or most, days of the week.”
Don’t let the idea of ‘30 minutes of exercise every day’ scare you. Even if you break it down into 10-minute segments throughout the day, you’ll get the same benefit to your cardiovascular system.
But what does ‘moderate intensity’ mean? Depending on the type of exercise, moderate intensity means working at a pace that will elevate your heart enough to get your blood pumping. (For walking, this is 4 mph). The point is to maintain this level for at least 10 minutes at a time. Eventually, you’ll work your way up to 30 minutes, and your cardiovascular health will thank you.
Staying active and getting fit is also a great way to meet new people and get social. You can start a walking program in your neighborhood, or use an online tracker and start following other fitness members. The important thing to remember is to have fun with your fitness program. If you love it, you’ll stick with it!
Say ‘No’ to Smoking
There’s no need to get into the many, life-threatening side effects of smoking. You all know what they are. So instead, let’s focus on not smoking because really, that’s the only option.
Quitting smoking is not something most people can easily do on their own. The best place to start is by asking your doctor for advice. There are medications, patches, gum, acupuncture, and even support groups to help you stick with it. So don’t despair. Just make the commitment to quit and take it one day at a time. For the sake of your health.
- Maintain the Ideal Waist Size for Men and Women
That unsightly bulge accumulating around your middle could be a sign of a weight problem, or worse. Being overweight comes with many health risks, including diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol. The good news is that even a weight loss of 5% can make an incredible difference to your health.
There are a few ways of measuring your total fat mass, some of them are highly technical and others are not so reliable. If you’ve ever had a fitness test, you’ll remember how they used calipers to measure your body mass index or BMI. However, this method is proving to be not as accurate as previously thought. The better way to check to see if you’re overweight and at risk of developing weight-related health issues is by calculating your waist-to-hip ratio.
The idea that having more weight around your hips is healthier than around your middle seems puzzling. But the answer lies in the fact that fat accumulation in the waist area is an indication of excess visceral fat. This is the fat you can’t see that collects around your vital organs, placing them under a great deal of stress and hindering their performance.
Here’s a quick way to check if you’re at risk:
- Women with waists greater than 35 inches.
- Men with waists greater than 40 inches.
If your jeans are fitting a little snugger than usual or you keep letting out your belt a notch or two, then it might be a good time to lose some weight. It might also be a good time to get your cholesterol checked.
A Good Night’s Sleep
While it’s true that as you age, you don’t quite need as many hours of sleep a night, it’s really a personal thing. But studies show that on average, adults need a minimum of 6-8 hours solid, uninterrupted sleep every night in order to perform at their best.
The body uses sleep time to repair, process and recover from the stresses of the day. If sleep is interrupted or deficient in any way, then your body will suffer and so too will your mental health.
Tips For A Good Night’s Sleep
Everybody has their own nightly ritual that they do, like taking out the garbage, brushing your teeth, checking your email one more time before you go to bed. But these habits don’t necessarily prepare you for a good night’s sleep.
Stick to the same schedule – By going to bed at the same time every night and setting your alarm to wake you up at the same time every day, you can program your body to expect sleep during this time, and maybe it will put up less of a fight and let you get some shuteye!
Take time to unwind – Before you go to bed at night, it’s important to take time to unwind. At least one hour before switching off the light, pull yourself away from the bright lights of the TV screen and other electronic devices, and give your eyes a break. Light, especially the blue light emitted from electronic screens, can interrupt with the production of hormones necessary to induce sleep.
Remove distractions – Make sure your bedroom is dark, quiet and well-ventilated. Try using a sleep mask, earplugs and black-out curtains to cut down on light, noise and other distractions.
Talk about it – Use this hour of downtime as quality time with your partner to catch up on the events of the day, and talk about any concerns that might be keeping you up at night.
Comfort – Make sure your bed and pillow are comfortable, and not causing you to lose sleep. You might want to try some pillow sprays that are scented with essential oils like lavender for relaxation.
Relaxation techniques – If you think meditation is something that will help you, just before bed is a good time to practice it. You can also try some yoga stretches or deep breathing exercises to help relax any tension in your body.
Health concerns – If you suffer from insomnia or have a snoring problem, check with your doctor for underlying issues.
Once your body gets into this routine every night, it will know what to expect and you’ll feel more relaxed and ready to embrace a full eight hours of quality sleep. Sweet dreams!\
Regular Health Checkups
Staying on top of your health by scheduling regular checkups with your doctor is important, so make sure you find a practitioner that you can trust and feel comfortable visiting. No sense in having a doctor you don’t like or trust.
Because high cholesterol can be hard to detect, without regular health screenings, it could
damage your blood vessels and heart muscle. So make sure you check in regularly with your doctor and keep up to date with all your medical exams.
You Can Do It!
With these six healthy habits, you’re six steps closer to living with vitality and energy through your 80’s and 90’s. So why not start today? All it takes is a shopping list and a pair of sneakers and you’re already well on your way! It’s easy once you make the commitment and plan to stick with it. Just imagine how much healthier you’ll be one year from now.
- Tags: Heart Health
- Blog Contributor