It may not be at the top of most women’s to-do lists, but caring for your heart through eating a healthy diet, engaging in regular physical activity, and managing your stress, is a must for preventing heart disease.
Find out how delicious a healthy diet can be.
A healthy diet is all about finding a balance you can maintain for life. Incorporating more protein, fruit, vegetables, whole grains – and yes, healthy fats – is a smart choice for the entire family. The Mediterranean style of eating is a perfect and delicious example.
Clean out your Pantry.
Give your pantry a spring cleaning! Having healthy options on-hand is the first step to preparing and eating healthy meals. Here’s what to look for:
- Pay attention to serving sizes. If an item has more than 1 or 2 servings, consider how much of it you will use.
- Can you pronounce the ingredients? If an item has too many long worded ingredients or words you have never even heard of, toss it.
- Aim for low sodium. Look at the sodium content on the items in your pantry and if it’s a product high in sodium consider tossing it.
- Check the expiration date. Many of us keep items in our pantry for years before using them. If this is the first time you are examining your pantry take a hard look at those dates.
Often, having less in your pantry is more. Consider buying more fresh and whole foods. This may mean going to the grocery store twice a week instead of just weekly. You’ll be more likely to prepare that zucchini in your refrigerator if isn’t already turning soft by the time you want to use it.
Become a Locavore.
This spring, make it a point to visit your local farmers’ market. Locavores tend to buy food that has been grown within a hundred-mile radius of their homes. Not only does this support local farmers, it also reduces the carbon footprint of food growth and production in your community. El Camino Hospital experts recommend going meat-free at least two or three days a week and incorporating more plants and vegetables into your meals.
Choose the right fat.
Understanding fat and its role in your diet is important to eating well. Fat is a necessary component of a healthy diet, but should be a small part of a diet filled with protein, fruits and vegetables. Focus on eating food with unsaturated fats, such as nuts, fish and avocados and avoid foods high in saturated fats, which come mainly from animal products such as red meat and dairy products. Trans fats are saturated fats that are commonly found in products that tend to have a longer shelf life such as processed foods and hydrogenated oils. Trans fats are well-known for raising cholesterol. It is wise to choose foods low in saturated and trans fats as part of a healthful diet.
Manage your Stress
Listen to Your Body.
Find time to listen to your body. This can be during an exercise class or at the end of the day when you are laying in bed. Quiet your mind and take note of how your body feels. Do you feel tense in a particular area? Are you able to breathe comfortably? Do you feel numb anywhere? Note any abnormalities that continue for more than a few days and mention them to your physician.
Living in the Blue.
Blue zones are identified as geographic areas of the world where people tend to live longer. Consider following the examples of the Greeks, Italians, Japanese and Seventh Day Adventists with these tips:
- Take a nap. This option isn’t for everyone, but if you can afford to take a 30-45 minute nap in the early to late afternoon your health will thank you.
- Have a glass of red. Pouring yourself one glass of red wine each day, combined with a healthy dinner will provide healthful benefits.
- Meditate. The Japanese practice daily meditation, calming their mind through focused breathing.
- Pray. The Seventh Day Adventists treat their bodies as a temple and approach life with a sense of purpose and daily reflection.
Aside from these tips the above populations also consume little meat, grow their own food and prefer walking to other transportation methods.
Regular exercise will diminish your risks of heart disease, boost your energy and mood, and help you lose weight. El Camino Hospital experts recommend twenty to thirty minutes of exercise three to four times a week. Aerobic exercise is specifically beneficial for improving the fitness of the heart and lungs. If you are not able to jog, consider joining a gym with a pool. Swimming can burn twice the amount of calories as jogging in the same amount of time.
If you have limited mobility, consider seated exercises. With shallow water aerobics, you can still strengthen and get cardiovascular exercise without impact to your joints. Your local YMCA may offer such classes.
What about wearables?
The best kind of wearable technology is the one you’re confident operating and interpreting data from. El Camino Hospital experts recommend utilizing a wearable such as a sports watch, smartwatch or fitness tracker if you are starting an exercise program. It can be a good way to objectively track and measure movement and activity so that patterns become apparent and can be adjusted for better results and health. Studies show that activity goes up 30% in people who wear wearable technologies since they become more aware of their inactivity. If you are beginning an exercise program, make sure to consult your physician.
Know What to Watch for
If you have a strong family history of heart disease, there’s a chance you may still be at risk even if you are doing everything right. Educate yourself on the signs of heart ailment and share them with your girl friends. The signs of a heart attack for women can differ significantly from those of men. Become familiar with these signs:
- Shortness of breath: Has your regular walk to work all of a sudden become much more difficult? If you find yourself gasping for air in situations that wouldn’t normally occur, see your physician.
- Nausea: Symptoms of nausea such as cold sweat and dizziness can come and go in the days before a heart attack. Follow up with your doctor, especially if you have other signs.
- Chest pain: Any sudden tightness, pressure or squeezing in the chest should be checked out by a physician.
- Women are more likely to have false positives on stress tests. Even if your results come back “normal” be sure firm with your physician about follow-up testing if you are experiencing chest pain or shortness of breath.
Any new symptom that arises and doesn’t feel normal should be evaluated by a physician. Keep in mind that time is muscle. The longer before a patient is seen the less blood flow makes it to the heart, causing more long-term damage.
This article first appeared in the April 2016 edition of the HealthPerks newsletter.