With the arrival of American Heart Month in February, it’s that time of the year to remind ourselves to take good care of our hearts.
To that end, cardiologists from the UCLA Barbra Streisand Women’s Heart Health Program, point out lifestyle factors that can help lower heart disease risk in both men and women.
“In addition to following a healthy diet and staying active, there are other things that we can do every day to help protect our hearts such as staying socially connected and getting enough sleep,” said Dr. Karol Watson, director of the heart program.
Watson, who is also a professor of medicine, division of cardiology at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, says that as a country we’re making good strides in that fewer Americans are dying from heart disease, but it still remains the nation’s number one killer.
Here are some lifestyle tips:
1. Stay active. All activities that get your heart rate up count (mowing the lawn, walking around the block, strenuous housework). Thirty minutes per day of physical activity is the goal.
Dr. Tamara Horwich, co-director of the UCLA Barbra Streisand Women’s Heart Health Program, notes that every little bit counts:
“Daily activity doesn’t all have to be done in one block. Adding 10 minutes here and five minutes there equals 15 minutes. It all adds up during the day,” said Horwich, who is also an associate professor of medicine in the cardiology division at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA.
2. Go nuts. Nuts have many heart benefits. They are rich in monounsaturated oils and some even contain omega 3 fats (the heart healthy fats typically found in fish). A handful of nuts a day (12-15 nuts) are a smart addition to your diet.
3. Manage stress. Use whatever helps to reduce stress. Try exercise, meditation or yoga.
4. Sip your favorite brew. Emerging research shows that both coffee and tea in moderation boost heart health.
5. Eat an egg — it’s OK! Eggs get a reprieve with new guidelines from the American College of Cardiology and the American Heart Association that allow an occasional egg as part of a heart healthy diet.
6. Limit solid fats. Reduce the amount of solid fats like margarine, butter or lard. Harmful fats (saturated and trans fats) are solid at room temperature while healthful fats (monounsaturated fats and omega 3 fats) are liquid at room temperature (like olive oil).
7. Limit screen time (TV, computer, addictive cell phone games) as much as possible. Excessive “sitting” time is associated with heart disease.
8. Get your Zzzzzzs. Try to get seven to eight hours of good quality sleep each night. Sleep deprivation can harm your health. People who don’t get enough sleep have a higher risk of obesity, high blood pressure, heart attack, diabetes and depression. Too much sleep is also associated with poorer health. Getting more than 10 hours of sleep per night is also associated with disease.
How do you know if your sleep is good quality? If you wake up in the morning feeling refreshed, you’re probably getting good quality sleep. But, if you wake up after a full night’s sleep feeling drained, you probably have poor sleep quality and should consult your physician.
9. Connect with friends, family and loved ones.
Dr. Marcella Anne Calfon Press, co-director, UCLA Barbra Streisand Women’s Heart Health Program, notes the importance of reaching out to others.
“Healthy relationships and social connections give richness to life and are good for the heart, too,” said Calfon Press, assistant professor of medicine, division of cardiology, Geffen School of Medicine.
10. Enjoy a bit of chocolate. That is, if it’s dark. Dark chocolate is actually heart healthy but only in small amounts (about an ounce daily).
11. Attain or maintain optimal weight. Healthy diet, physical activity, managing stress, and getting adequate sleep will all help you achieve this goal, and ultimately reduce your risk of getting heart disease.
12. Make sure you can recognize the early signs of a heart attack. Tightness or discomfort in the chest, neck, arm or stomach which comes on with exertion (either physical or emotional) and goes away with rest may be the first sign of a heart attack.