February is American Heart Month, a great time to take a look at how your lifestyle is affecting your heart. At or near the top of the list is your level of exercise.
The heart is a muscle, and movement strengthens the heart muscle the same way exercise strengthens muscles in other parts of your body. A strong heart does a better job of pumping blood through the body, and that helps keep your blood pressure under control.
The American Heart Association recommends about 30 minutes of brisk exercise four or five times a week. Before you think that’s easier said than done, consider all the little ways you can move more on any given day. Just 10 minutes of movement at a time can make a difference in the way you feel and in your ability to fight heart disease:
- Park the car farther away from the door
- Take the stairs instead of the elevator
- Get up and walk the halls once an hour
- Go talk to your coworkers instead of emailing them
Check into exercise classes offered in your community, or consider a fitness club like Covenant Health’s Fort Sanders Health and Fitness Center. Keep moving and you’ll be on your way to a healthier heart in no time.
If the idea of label reading and strategic meal planning sounds like an overwhelming task, take heart. There is an easy way to take the first step toward a heart healthy diet.
All you have to do is follow one, simple rule: Eat natural, unprocessed foods.
This means moving away from things that come in a can, and moving toward things that go into a produce bag. When you’re getting ready to choose your food, ask yourself what foods can be picked from a tree or grown in a garden.
The less you add to your foods, the better. Usually, natural foods don’t need to be “doctored up” to be tasty – we’ve simply become accustomed to eating them that way. It won’t take long to develop new habits for healthier eating.
For two weeks, try your potatoes and corn without salt and butter. Try fruit without sugar. Try meats without sauces and gravy. Give yourself a chance to get used to eating natural foods.
There are many other recommendations for a heart-healthy diet. But sometimes you only need to take a small step in the right direction to set big changes in motion.
What you might not know
Doctors, scientists, teachers and news media never stop their efforts to help you know how to take care of your heart. By the time you reach a certain age, you might feel like you know everything there is to know.
However, a few things may have escaped your notice. For example:
- Heart disease is the leading cause of death for women, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Heart disease is responsible for more than one-third of the deaths that claim women’s lives, and more women die of heart disease each year than breast cancer.
- If you think heart disease is primarily a concern for the elderly, think again. The buildup of plaque in the arteries can start as early as our teenage years.
- It’s fun to point to occasional reports that suggest having a glass of wine is good for your heart, but ongoing use of alcohol can weaken the muscle of the heart and lead to cardiomyopathy and atrial fibrillation.
- It’s common knowledge that smoking is bad for your lungs, but it also puts your heart in danger. Smoking damages the lining of your arteries.
- Many a diet plan discourages eating or drinking dairy products because of saturated fat. But don’t ditch the dairy just yet. The latest research suggests that dairy products might actually lower your risk for heart disease and stroke. Dairy contains amino acids, vitamins K-1 and K-2, calcium, and probiotics – all of which are beneficial to your body. Doctors say the key is moderation. The U.S. Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends that adults eat two- to three-cup equivalents of fat-free or low-fat dairy products daily.
For more information about great ways to keep your heart healthy, visit the health library.
Learn more about the cardiology services offered at Fort Sanders Regional. From testing to surgical procedures to rehabilitation and clinical trials, our advanced technology meets the needs of heart patients in Knoxville and around our region.