7 Steps to a Healthier Heart (Infographic)

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Everyone sets goals, but those goals can be hard to achieve without a plan. Whether it’s for your kids, your significant other or for yourself, getting heart healthy is a step in the right direction. Heart disease is the No. 1 killer of both men and women in the U.S. Coronary heart disease is the most common type of heart disease, and it kills over 380,000 people each year.  Over 720,000 people have a heart attack each year as well. The statistics are scary, but you can prevent them from happening! Follow these steps, and you will be on your way to a healthier heart.

Steps to a Healthier Heart Infographic | UnityPoint Health - Methodist | Proctor

Step 1: Eat Healthy

Heart health is all about choices. Including foods like fruits and veggies, whole grains, beans and legumes, oily fish, fat-free or low-fat dairy, and healthier fats like monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats into your diet can help your heart. Polyunsaturated fats help lower “bad” LDL cholesterol in your blood and monounsaturated fats lower LDL cholesterol as well while also raising “good” HDL cholesterol. Fiber keeps some cholesterol from absorbing into your body and fruits and veggies are full of vitamins and minerals the body needs. Reduce the amount of salt you eat, along with the amount of saturated, trans fats, partially hydrogenated oils, fatty red meats and added sugar to stay healthy.

Eating healthy starts at home. Home cooked meals have more fruits and veggies than restaurants as well as fewer calories and fat than fast food. If you’re unsure how to begin preparing healthy food for your family, the American Heart Association offers healthy substitutions for regularly purchased foods.

Step 2: Quit Smoking

Your risk of developing heart disease will dramatically drop once you stop smoking. After just 20 minutes of not smoking, blood pressure and heart rate both fall to normal levels.

Tips to quit smoking:

  • Pick a date to stop smoking.

  • Tell important people you are quitting.

  • Throw away all reminders of smoking.

  • Remind yourself why you are quitting.

  • Learn how to manage withdrawal symptoms.

Step 3: Manage Stress

Everyone deals with stress. It can be caused by work, family, an accident or a life-changing event. However, out of control stress can cause high blood pressure, irregular heart beats and even damage your arteries. 

There are several things you can do to manage your stress:

  • Find someone to talk to about your problems. This person can be a friend, family member, clergyperson, doctor or counselor.

  • Stay social. Isolating yourself might seem like the easiest option, but in reality spending time with family and friends can help lower those stressful feelings. 

  • Get enough sleep. If you are feeling stressed, it’s important to take care of yourself. Getting a full night’s sleep is a good place to start.

  • Treat yourself. Letting yourself have a small treat will help reduce stress and give you break. These treats can be low-stress events like getting a massage or pedicure. 

Step 4: Exercise

Regular exercise has been proven to help reduce the risk of coronary heart disease, and if problems to occur, they happen at a later age and are less severe. Exercise has also been proven to reduce high blood pressure, lower cholesterol and help manage glucose levels in the blood. It is recommended that everyone get at least 30 minutes of exercise each day. Simple things like walking, climbing stairs, riding a bike, or dancing all count toward your exercise goals!

Step 5: Maintain a Healthy Weight

Eating healthy and exercising combine to help maintain a healthy weight. A healthy weight is more important than strictly focusing on losing weight. You can use a BMI calculator to determine and estimate what a healthy weight is for your height and weight. Excess weight puts extra stress on your heart. It also lowers the “good” HDL cholesterol in your body and increases your risk of diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease and stroke.

Studies have proven that yo-yo dieting is hazardous to your health and could result in a food addiction and an over-consumption of unhealthy foods. The key is to focus on being healthy, not dieting. Making the right choices and participating in a healthy lifestyle will ultimately result in weight loss and an increase in your quality of life.

Step 6: Know Your Family History

Many heart conditions like heart disease are linked very closely to family history. If you have a family history of any heart conditions, it’s important to know and communicate this with your doctor. A predisposition to a heart complication puts you at a much higher risk, but, with your physician, you can change other aspects of your lifestyle to help lower your risk. Sit down with your family and discuss any past or present heart problems.

Step 7: Educate the Next Generation

The skills needed to stay heart healthy are learned at a young age. The American Heart Association gives parents tips on how to talk with their kids about staying healthy. Their “Life’s Simple 7 for Kids” includes:

  • Learning about blood sugar, diabetes, blood pressure and cholesterol

  • Playing everyday

  • Not smoking

  • Eating a healthy diet

It’s time to start working toward a healthy lifestyle. The best way to avoid a negative heart-health diagnosis is to stop it in it’s tracks. If you or a loved one might be at risk for cardiovascular problems, trust the Heart Care and Cardiovascular Services at UnityPoint Health - Methodist.

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