healthy heart

SELF-CARE FOR A HEALTHY HEART

February is American Heart Month and along with Advanced Movement and Wellness’ monthly self-care topics, I will share tips you can incorporate into your daily life to maintain a healthy heart. 1 in 4 people will die from heart disease, be it a heart attack, cardiovascular disease (CVD) or a stroke. Don’t become one of the statistics!

Self-care is “commonly understood as a naturalistic decision‐making process in which persons engage for the purpose of maintaining health and managing acute and chronic illness,” (Riegel, et al, 2017). While healthcare providers play a part in this self-care (by ordering labs and imaging, prescribing medications, etc.), ultimately the majority care is up to us. The time spent with our healthcare providers is minimal compared to the time we can spend in making sure we do the things to be the healthiest we can be.

Let’s look at proven self-care techniques that lead to better heart health:


* Don’t smoke or stop smoking if you currently do. Some people can do this “cold turkey” but many may need a medication or program to assist them.


* Maintain or aim for a healthy weight


* Commit to at least 30 minutes of regular exercise at least 4 to 5 days per week—this includes aerobic exercise such as brisk walking, cycling or group cardio classes AND some form of resistance training (weight lifting, yoga, Pilates, etc.)


* Know your numbers! Have your blood pressure checked at least every two years (if readings are less than 120/80) and more often if your readings are higher (greater than 120/80 or you are already on meds for hypertension). As we age, our blood vessels lose elasticity and this can increase blood pressure—regular, lifelong exercise can help reduce this occurrence!


* Know your lab values! High cholesterol and elevated triglycerides can contribute to a higher incidence of heart disease, heart attack, or stroke. Get these labs checked yearly or as recommended by your provider.


**Diet and regular exercise can reduce these numbers!


* Reduce sodium intake. Dietary sodium (salt) can increase the fluid level in our interstitial tissues, increasing the pressure on our vascular system. This leads to increased pressure on our heart as it pumps blood throughout our body, causing strain on our hearts and kidneys. The DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) Diet is an excellent choice for those who have hypertension: https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/dash-diet/art-20048456


* Decrease stress. Practice mindfulness (staying in the moment); meditation; quiet time; electronic device-free time; prayer; learn that it is okay to say “NO”; and learn the “Butterfly Hug”—it can be done anytime, anywhere and can be used to calm yourself—here is a link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?reload=9&v=iGGJrqscvtU


*Practice sleep hygiene. There is some evidence that poor sleep habits can lead to hypertension, which can lead to other cardiac conditions. Aim for 7 to 8 hours of uninterrupted sleep most nights. Try going to bed and rising at the same times every day, even on days off from work or school. Put electronic devices aside at least one hour before lights out and read an actual book or magazine to bring your day to a close. Invest in a “sound machine” and listen to white noise, rain sounds, ocean sounds, etc. to help your brain recognize it is time to sleep. There are apps available for this purpose, as well.


* Inform yourself. Learn all you can about any health conditions you have been diagnosed with, especially chronic conditions. Request information from your providers or reputable online sources, such as the American Heart Association, The Mayo Clinic, or WebMD. Not everything found online if accurate so make sure it is evidence-based info!


*Take medications as prescribed by your provider. If you have already been diagnosed with a cardiac condition such as hypertension or CVD, make sure you follow your provider’s instructions. If you aren’t quite sure of his or her information, make sure you ask before leaving the office. Better yet, make a list of questions BEFORE you go to your appointment, so you have those handy.

Practicing self-care gives you a voice in your health and well-being. Be motivated, be informed, and be well by practicing these tips in your long and healthy life!


References

Riegel, B., Moser, D. K., Buck, H. G., Dickson, V. V., Dunbar, S. B., Lee, C. S., Lennie, T. A., Lindenfeld, J., Mitchell, J. E., Treat-Jacobson, D. J., Webber, D. E., American Heart Association Council on Cardiovascular and Stroke Nursing; Council on Peripheral Vascular Disease; and Council on Quality of Care and Outcomes Research (2017). Self-Care for the Prevention and Management of Cardiovascular Disease and Stroke: A Scientific Statement for Healthcare Professionals from the American Heart Association. Journal of the American Heart Association, 6(9), e006997. doi:10.1161/JAHA.117.006997