Here are five strategies to protect your heart, arteries and the rest of you, according to Harvard Medical School’s HealthBeat.
1. Avoid tobacco. Smoke from cigarettes, cigars, and pipes is as bad for the heart and arteries as it is for the lungs. If you smoke, quitting is the biggest gift of health you can give yourself. Secondhand smoke is also toxic, so avoid it whenever possible.
2. Be active. Exercise and physical activity are about the closest things you have to magic bullets against heart disease and other chronic conditions. Any amount of activity is better than none; at least 30 minutes a day is best.
For folks with demanding jobs, use the stairs instead of the elevator, walk to work or the train station. Exercise is cumulative. Three 10 minute walks give you the same benefit as one 30 minute walk. Find a way.
3. Aim for a healthy weight. Carrying extra pounds, especially around the belly, strains the heart and tips you toward diabetes. If you are overweight, losing just 5% to 10% of your starting weight can make a big difference in your blood pressure and blood sugar.
See our item on belly fat here.
4. Enliven your diet. Add fruits and vegetables, whole grains, unsaturated fat, good protein (from beans, nuts, fish, and poultry), and herbs and spices. Subtract processed foods, salt, rapidly digested carbohydrates (from white bread, white rice, potatoes, and the like), red meat, and soda or other sugar-sweetened beverages.
This sounds a lot like the Mediterranean Diet we wrote about on April 24.
5. Drink alcohol in moderation (if at all). If you drink alcohol, limit your intake — one to two drinks a day for men, no more than one a day for women.
The American Heart Association recommends cognitive behavioral strategies for promoting behavior change. They aim to help you think more positively about yourself as you make healthy changes. Here are some of those strategies:
Set goals. Having specific, achievable goals is a key strategy for successful change. Goals that involve specific behaviors (“I will eat three servings of whole grains a day”) tend to work better than general physiological goals (“I will lower my cholesterol”).
Track your progress. With all the things you have to remember each day, it’s hard to know whether you are meeting your daily goals. Data from dozens of studies show that self-monitoring is an important attribute of successful changers. You can track your exercise or pounds lost with a notebook, a computer, a smartphone, or an invention of your own. I have used and recommend the Lose it! App for the iPhone/iPod Touch/iPad.
Motivation. Changing a habit or behavior is easier if you have a good reason for doing it. Motivation can be something big, like getting in shape for a walking trip with a grandchild, or small, like fitting into a slimmer suit for a wedding. The more personal the motivator, the better.
Get support. Starting a change isn’t nearly as challenging as sticking with it. Support from family, friends, a doctor, or someone else — even from an online community — can provide feedback and encouragement, especially when you are feeling low.
Eat less; move more. Words to live by.