Every day, a human heart will beat approximately 100,000 times (1). The heart is one of our most important and most fascinating muscles, yet we often do not think about our heart health until it is too late.
Heart disease, or cardiovascular disease, refers to conditions affecting the heart or the blood vessels (2). It is the leading cause of death and disability in the United States and can affect people of any gender, race, or age (3). In Watauga County, cardiovascular disease is the second leading cause of death (following cancer) among residents ages 44-84 (4).
Although genetics and environmental factors play a major role in the development of heart disease, the risk for heart disease can be dramatically reduced by engaging in health promoting behaviors (5). There are a variety of simple healthful behaviors that you can adopt so that you never skip a beat.
Add Variety to Your Grocery Cart
It is easy to have tunnel vision for our favorites and fill our grocery carts with the same foods, week after week. Next time you are shopping for your groceries, take a look above and below your usual grocery staples and try tossing in a new colorful vegetable (can be fresh, frozen, or canned), a seasonal fruit, or swap an animal-based source of protein for a plant-based source (beans, lentils, tofu, nuts, etc.). A heart-healthy diet includes a variety of whole grains, vegetables, fruits, lean meats, fish, and low-fat dairy (6). Variety in your diet is not only good for your heart but is a great way to keep things interesting and mealtime exciting. Want to try cooking up a simple and affordable heart healthy recipe this week? Check out American Heart Association’s recipe collection.
Limit Alcohol Consumption
Does a glass of wine really keep the doctor away? There is some evidence that moderate amounts of alcohol, particularly red wine, might protect heart health. Yet, it is unclear whether the red wine is directly associated with heart health, or whether other factors are involved, such as the antioxidants found in the grapes used to make wine (7). Excessive drinking, binge drinking, and heavy drinking have all been associated with an increased risk of high blood pressure, heart failure, and stroke. If you choose to drink alcohol, drink moderately – meaning one drink per day for women and one to two for men. A standard drink is 12 ounces of beer, four ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces of liquor (7).
Move Your Body Joyfully
Being physically active and moving throughout the day can have many benefits for your heart health. Physical activity can lower blood pressure, blood cholesterol, and blood sugar levels to reduce your risk for heart disease and heart attacks. It is recommended that adults should strive each week to get 150 minutes of physical activity (2). By engaging in physical activity that you enjoy, you are more likely to move your body regularly. Some ways to move your body include going for a walk on the local Greenway, dancing in your living room, riding a bike, shoveling snow (yikes!), hiking on the Blue Ridge Parkway, or playing in the backyard with your children or grandchildren.
Be a Quitter
Smoking greatly increases the risk for heart disease, stroke, and lung disease. If you smoke or use other tobacco/nicotine products, quitting can lower your risk for heart disease (8). For more information about being tobacco and nicotine free, check out https://www.quitlinenc.com/.
Get Restful Sleep
Did you know that insufficient sleep has been linked to several chronic diseases and conditions? Adults that get fewer than seven hours of sleep each night have an increased risk for heart disease, heart attack, and stroke (9). Better sleep, better heart health.
If you are having trouble sleeping, reach out to The Sleep Center of Watauga Medical Center at (828) 266-1179 or https://apprhs.org/sleep/.
Practice Random Acts of Kindness
Could keeping on the sunny side protect your heart? Happiness and optimism have been shown to be an important component of heart health. In an analysis of 230,000 people, an optimistic mindset was linked to a lower risk of heart attack, stroke, and death (10). It would be naïve to simply say “just be more optimistic,” as we all experience many trials and barriers to mental health. Yet, we can strive to take small steps towards happiness – such as practicing random acts of kindness, expressing daily gratitude, staying connected with others, and living in the present.
Each day is new and different. Some days it may be easier than others to follow these suggestions. Be gentle with yourself and don’t lose heart.
If you have concerns or questions about your heart health, reach out to the Heart and Vascular Center at (828) 264-9664 or https://apprhs.org/heartcenter/.
Author: Madi Zaidel, CHES®
Madi is a Certified Health Education Specialist and is currently the Community Health Outreach Specialist for Appalachian Regional Healthcare System. Madi holds a degree in Public Health and is working on her master’s degree in Public Health Nutrition. Madi is passionate about health promotion, health education, and holistic well-being, and is an advocate for health at every size (HAES).
- Shaffer, F., McCraty, R., & Zerr, C. L. (2014). A healthy heart is not a metronome: an integrative review of the heart’s anatomy and heart rate variability. Frontiers in psychology, 5, 1040. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2014.01040
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2021). Heart disease. https://www.cdc.gov/heartdisease/about.htm
- Centers for Disease Control and Preventions. (2021) Heart disease facts. https://www.cdc.gov/heartdisease/facts.htm
- Appalachian District Health Department Board of Health. (2020). Watauga County Community Health Report.
- American Heart Association. (2018). Cardiovascular disease prevention programs. https://www.heart.org/en/get-involved/advocate/federal-priorities/cdc-prevention-programs
- Cleveland Clinic. (2018). Heart healthy diet. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/articles/17079-heart-healthy-diet
- American Heart Association. (2019). Is drinking alcohol part of a healthy lifestyle? https://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/healthy-eating/eat-smart/nutrition-basics/alcohol-and-heart-health
- Food and Drug Administration (2021). How smoking affects heart health. https://www.fda.gov/tobacco-products/health-effects-tobacco-use/how-smoking-affects-heart-health#1
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2021). How does sleep affect your heart health? https://www.cdc.gov/bloodpressure/sleep.htm
- Rozanski, A., Bavishi, C., Kubzansky, L.D., Cohen, R. (2019). Association of optimism with cardiovascular events and all-cause mortality: A systematic review and meta-analysis. JAMA Network, 2(9): e1912200. doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2019.12200
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