Implementing a healthy lifestyle is a vital part of having heart disease and preventing it from happening. Having high blood pressure or cholesterol means healthy lifestyle changes are in order. Stroke and heart attack survivors need to change their habits so they can regain their health. Some may change their diet, exercise more, work on forming better habits, and that can work. In fact, the Body Reboot book discusses how a high-fat, low-carb diet known as the keto diet may help improve heart health. The ketogenic diet also encourages people to lose weight, which plays a part in keeping a heart healthy. Starting small with a series of changes can help positive habits form and overtime change won’t be as daunting. Small changes may take longer, but they can lead to some incredible positive changes, from losing weight to forming better food habits. Here are some small, yet powerful steps to take to improve your heart health starting today:
Clean Up Your Diet
To work on your cholesterol and clean up your diet WebMD recommends cutting out processed foods and relying on the good stuff such as vegetables and meat. You might be thinking that a high-fat, low-carb diet may not be good for your diet, but focusing on a diet that cuts out carbs and focuses on helping you lose weight will ultimately help your heart stay healthy.
Your heart works best when it runs on clean fuel. That means lots of whole, plant-based foods (like fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds) and fewer refined or processed foods (like white bread, pasta, crackers, and cookies).
It’s time-tested wisdom. “The latest fads get overplayed by the media. But the core of what makes a heart-healthy eating pattern hasn't changed for decades,” Lloyd-Jones says.
One of the fastest ways to clean up your diet is to cut out sugary beverages like soda and fruit juice, which lacks the fiber that’s in actual fruit.
“We drink way too many of our calories,” Sanghavi says. “And those calories don't fill us up the way real food does, so we have them in addition to everything else we're eating, with no nutritional benefit.”
Part of keeping your heart healthy and the rest of your body healthy too is preparing your own meals and making good decisions while at the grocery store. What does smart shopping entail? Well, according to Everyday Health, shopping smart is about avoiding the processed food and instead stocking up on healthy food, from eggs, vegetables, to healthy olive oil (which is excellent to use on the keto diet).
Eating out several nights a week didn’t used to be the norm for Americans, but it is nowadays, and that’s part of what’s contributing to the trend toward unhealthy weight. Preparing more of your meals at home can help you take control over what you’re eating, Dr. Agatston says: “By buying your own food and preparing it yourself, you can ensure you’re getting the maximum nutrients in each meal.” Best of all, eating at home can help you save money. Dr. Agatston encourages people to create weekly meal plans and shopping lists and then stick to the list at the grocery store. And contrary to popular belief, it isn’t necessary to avoid the center aisles of the store, where you'll typically find processed foods. “While the perimeter continues to be your main source for healthy items, these days shopping the center aisles is also essential — it’s here you’re likely to find whole-grain breads and pastas, olive oil, and all manner of heart-healthy canned goods including beans, fish, and vegetables,” he says.
Figure Out if You Have Diabetes
Part of keeping your heart healthy is finding out if you have diabetes, according to WebMD. To find out if you are at risk for diabetes or if you have it get your blood sugar tested.
Millions of people don’t know that they have this condition. That’s risky because over time, high blood sugar damages arteries and makes heart disease more likely.
Your doctor should test your blood sugar if you are 45 or older, if you are pregnant, or if you're overweight and have other risk factors for diabetes.
If you find out that you have diabetes, work with your doctor on your lifestyle (diet and exercise) and any medicine that you may need.
If you have borderline high blood sugar, also called prediabetes, take action now to turn things around.
One simple swap is to trade processed carbs (like white rice) for fiber-rich whole grains (like brown rice). Every positive change you make in what you eat and how active you are will help. Over time, you’ll be able to do more.
Use Olive Oil
Olive oil is extremely keto-friendly, and it also happens to be excellent for your heart! Dr. Oz argues that we should be using more olive oil in our diets and why that’s the case.
There’s a reason for all of the fuss over olive oil – it’s good for your heart. According to a Portuguese study, one of the major antioxidants in this Mediterranean crop, DHPEA-EDA, was found to protect red blood cells from damage. Cellular destruction is partly responsible for heart disease, heart attacks and stroke, and red blood cells are particularly susceptible to oxidative damage because they are the body's oxygen carriers. To protect your precious heart, break out the extra virgin olive oil. The DHPEA-EDA in there can comprise up to half of the total antioxidant component of the oil. If you’re cooking with olive oil, just be sure to heat it below its smoke point: 310° F for extra virgin olive oil and 375° F for virgin olive oil. Higher heat can cause the oil to break down into free radicals, which only contribute to more cell damage. Or simply drizzle some on whole wheat pasta or use it for a tasty salad vinaigrette.
Control Your Portions
Controlling the portions you eat is another way to take care of your heart, and by going on a low-carb diet that can help you feel fuller, longer. Carbs make you hungry, but eating healthy fats and protein can keep you from wanting to eat again shortly after a meal. Here’s what else Mayo Clinic has to say about controlling your portions when you eat:
How much you eat is just as important as what you eat. Overloading your plate, taking seconds and eating until you feel stuffed can lead to eating more calories than you should. Portions served in restaurants are often more than anyone needs.
Use a small plate or bowl to help control your portions. Eat larger portions of low-calorie, nutrient-rich foods, such as fruits and vegetables, and smaller portions of high-calorie, high-sodium foods, such as refined, processed or fast foods. This strategy can shape up your diet as well as your heart and waistline.
Keep track of the number of servings you eat. The recommended number of servings per food group may vary depending on the specific diet or guidelines you're following. A serving size is a specific amount of food, defined by common measurements such as cups, ounces or pieces. For example, one serving of pasta is about 1/3 to 1/2 cup, or about the size of a hockey puck. A serving of meat, fish or chicken is about 2 to 3 ounces, or about the size and thickness of a deck of cards. Judging serving size is a learned skill. You may need to use measuring cups and spoons or a scale until you're comfortable with your judgment.
Look After Your Mental Health
Staying mentally healthy is just as important as your heart health, so that’s why it’s vital to make sure you’re taking time away and improving your spirits if you start feeling down. Mental Health America has 31 tips on how to improve your mental health, and here are just a few of them:
Set up a getaway. It could be camping with friends or a trip to the tropics. The act of planning a vacation and having something to look forward to can boost your overall happiness for up to 8 weeks!
Experiment with a new recipe, write a poem, paint or try a Pinterest project. Creative expression and overall well-being are linked.
Boost brainpower by treating yourself to a couple pieces of dark chocolate every few days. The flavanoids, caffeine, and theobromine in chocolate are thought to work together to improve alertness and mental skills.
Feeling anxious? Take a trip down memory lane and do some coloring for about 20 minutes to help you clear your mind. Pick a design that's geometric and a little complicated for the best effect.
Go off the grid. Leave your smart phone at home for a day and disconnect from constant emails, alerts, and other interruptions. Spend time doing something fun with someone face-to-face.
Listen to Music
Just like taking time for your mental health is vital, another way to improve your mood and help your heart is by listening to music. Yes, it’s a simple thing to do, but Dr. Oz says it can really help you. See why that’s the case:
We already know that music can make us feel good. But did you also know it has been linked to lowering blood pressure? Specifically, listening to music can decrease both systolic and diastolic blood pressure as well as your heart rate. But before you start blasting your iPod at the gym, just know that not all music is created equal when it comes to heart health. According to a study published in the journal Heart, what matters most is the tempo. Researchers noted that faster music – whether classical or rock – caused an increase in blood pressure and heart rate, while slower tempo music had a calming effect. A little Beethoven, anyone?
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