If you’ve had a heart procedure or you’re being treated for a cardiac condition, your physician has most likely told you the importance of maintaining a healthy heart to lower the risk of recurrence.
But learning to make healthier choices and adopt good habits can take some time—and often, some help. The effort is important, however. Statistics show that people who commit to making changes are the ones who are best able to manage their heart disease.
While some risk factors for heart disease may be beyond your control, such as age, sex and genetics, there are some things you can control. Experts say that taking charge of certain risk factors – such as smoking, eating habits and exercise – can add months or years to your life.
Smoking: It is important to stop using any type of tobacco product. If you smoke and have had trouble quitting, please contact our Rehabilitation experts for some help with smoking cessation. The good news is that it’s never too late to quit. After one year of not smoking, the excess risk of heart disease created by smoking is reduced by 80 percent (FDA). After 7 years of not smoking, all the risk from smoking is gone. Keep trying to quit!
Eating habits: Physicians recommend that you eat a diet low in fat, salt and cholesterol. Limit your salt (sodium) intake to less than 2,300 milligrams a day. If you have had high blood pressure, your doctor may suggest a lower goal – about 1,500 mg per day.
For heart-healthy eating, stick to mainly fruits, vegetables, grain products, lean meats and fish. The goal should be to decrease the level of fat (especially saturated fat) and to reduce cholesterol (by avoiding fatty red meats, whole milk, whole milk cheeses, eggs, cream-based dishes and rich desserts).
Look for foods that are high in fiber, since eating more fiber can make you feel full and help you to eat less. You can get more fiber in your diet by eating whole grains, beans, nuts, fruits and vegetables.
More about fats: Fat is a major source of energy and it aids the body in absorbing vitamins. It’s important for proper growth, development and health. However, not all fats are the same. The FDA recommends avoiding the following:
- Saturated fats, such as butter, solid shortening, lard and fatback
- Trans fats, found in vegetable shortenings, some margarines, crackers, cookies and snack foods. They are also found in other foods made with partially hydrogenated oils.
To replace these oils, use oils such as corn, canola, olive, safflower, soybean and sunflower. Of course, eat these in moderation because eating too much of any kind of fat will put on the pounds.
Increase Exercise: Make it a habit to exercise at least three times a week for 30 minutes to condition the heart. Exercise burns off calories and can help you to maintain your ideal weight. It can also help to reduce your appetite, lower your blood pressure, reduce stress levels and raise your HDL levels – the good kind of cholesterol.
If a 30-minute workout is too challenging at first, don’t worry. Medical studies have shown that doing a few shorter workouts throughout the day can be effective, too. Just make sure the workouts add up to 30 minutes a day.
Other changes: Limit alcohol consumption to moderate intake (an average of one to two drinks per day for men and one drink per day for women). Note: Drinking more than a moderate amount of alcohol can cause heart-related problems, such as high blood pressure, stroke or irregular heartbeats. Also note that the average drink has between 100 and 200 calories.
Try to limit stress as much as possible, since higher stress levels can affect your heart. People often report that they had a heart attack during a time of stress in their lives. While stress may not cause heart disease, it can make existing heart conditions worse. Under stress, a person’s heart tends to race and the blood pressure rises, causing the heart to have a greater need for oxygen. Stress can even injure the arteries because of the extra hormones and the increased blood flow during the stress response.
With today’s hectic work and family pressures, stress management can be a challenge. Exercise, meditation or other methods can help.
Of course, your cardiac team recognizes that you may need some help in getting started and sticking to these new healthy habits. That’s why the rehabilitation and education programs at the Mat Gaberty Heart Center are always available.
For more information, please call the Rehabilitation team at (586) 493-3354.
To learn more about reducing the risk of heart disease, please visit these websites: