When you think about heart health, do you regret last night's chicken Alfredo or feel guilty because you can't remember the last time you broke a sweat??
You might think heart health is all about diet and exercise, but there's so much more to keeping your heart healthy and strong. Even those who eat well and work out regularly still get heart disease.
So while the chicken Alfredo and the lack of exercise aren't doing your heart any favors, there are lots of other things going on in your life that can have a big impact on your risk for heart disease. The good news is that you can control a lot of the smaller lifestyle changes that offer big protection to your heart. And it doesn't have to be difficult. Technology offers so many simple and accessible ways to connect with others, track your health stats, look up health and nutrition information, or even assess your sleep.
The first step is to take a big-picture view of your overall lifestyle. If you burn the candle at both ends trying to balance a high-pressure job with an active family life, but are too busy to spend time with friends or to do things you enjoy, your heart is going to suffer. And if you have a family history of heart disease, you need to take notice and start implementing heart-healthy lifestyle choices.
Taking care of yourself is essential, but heart health is bigger than just diet and exercise. What else are you supposed to do?
Know Your Family History
If high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and heart attacks run in your family, you're probably at an increased risk for heart disease. Family history increases your risk and although you can't change your family history, you can do a lot for prevention. An easy way to keep track is to keep details on your desktop and your phone so you can update your physician at each visit or take advantage of the electronic health records most physicians use now to send a quick note or update.
Getting together with friends, family, and people you like to be around enriches your life and offers heart benefits. Socializing and seeing people for the pure enjoyment of their company protects you from heart disease.
In contrast, loneliness has been linked to an approximately 30 percent greater risk of heart disease. And being social comes in all kinds of forms. It can be your church group, a book club, your family, work colleagues, or your exercise class. You can join a Facebook group to just chat or to plan outings. Connecting with others relaxes you and makes you feel less lonely – both of which head off heart disease.
Assess Your Own Health
Do you have chronic health conditions? The fact is, according to the American Heart Association, adults with diabetes are two to four times more likely to die from heart disease than those who don't have diabetes. Do you suspect you might have clinical depression? Are your cholesterol and triglycerides a little high? Are you a smoker? Some other health conditions raise your risk of heart disease if they are left untreated. Ask your doctor for heart health tips, discuss what you can do to reduce your risk and if there are any tests you should have.
Make Relaxation a Priority
This is easier said than done, but it takes many forms. You might relish the idea of hiking through the woods while another person's ideal afternoon is spent catching up on knitting. The important thing is to do an activity in which you lose yourself. If you love doing something so much that you lose track of time, it's almost like putting your brain on hold and similar, although not exactly like, meditation.
Don't forget to use the technology that's available to help you reach a calm state. You can plug into apps like Headspace, Calm or Chill on your devices to steal a little peace wherever you are. The best part is these apps offer guidance than can take just a few minutes, so you can fit it into your day. Your heart will thank you.
Get Enough Sleep
Do you race through your busy day, hit the sheets way too late, and then get up after just a few short hours of sleep to do it all over again? If that's you, you're really shortchanging your heart. The Mayo Clinic suggests adults get seven to nine hours of sleep per night. Sleep is restorative and your body needs it to heal your physical system, but sleep also helps your brain process the day's emotional stimulation.
If you need a little help to figure out exactly where you might have a sleep problem, you can try SleepTime, an app that tracks your movements and can wake you at the most optimal time. Or you can try a high-tech alarm clock that mimics the sunrise so you wake up gently and set your body clock.
Know the Signs
Women and men experience heart attack symptoms differently. According to WomenHeart, women might feel less of the classic chest pain and more nausea. And know the signs of stroke like sudden confusion, loss of sensation or mobility, or vision changes.
Caught early, heart disease and heart troubles can be managed. And while diet and exercise are a big part of the equation, you can make lots of little changes that add up and make a big impact.
What are some lifestyle changes you've made to better the health of your heart?