I'm sure you're familiar with the heart benefits of exercise and a good diet? Those guidelines for heart care have been widely broadcast. Common knowledge, though, runs the risk of becoming a fact instead of a lifestyle. "Oh, yeah, I know that exercise is good for me." If you hear yourself saying that try to reframe the fact. For instance, Do you want to live into your nineties? Improve your chances with exercise and nutrition. Want to sleep better? Practice exercise and good nutrition. Embrace exercise and nutrition in your lifestyle to improve your everyday perspective, your availability to others, your strength and endurance, your readiness for challenges and your overall energy, among other crucial functions. Your capability in life relies on how you care for your heart and health.  Your job and relational life is optimal when your body is well. Caring for your heart by adopting daily focus on exercise and nutrition is a high return investment that makes all else in life possible.

If you've already incorporated one daily exercise or an exercise routine into your life you can ramp up the heart benefit by making sure your exercise contains some: stretching, balance support, strength elements, and aerobic benefits. For example, if you walk stretch for a few minutes before you start, walk on a curb if you can for balance, and practice slow/fast intervals for aerobic benefit. If you haven't yet added exercise, exercise not just activity, take a look at why exercise is so essential to heart health. After exercise I hope you're finding time and energy to give yourself a healthy meal. In addition to bumping up your fresh fruits and vegetables and staying away from trans fats you can help your heart by minimizing portions and going low salt and low protein. Today's food labeling will help with making choices that support heart health however a pastry and bowl of ice cream from time to time can do wonders for your mental health so don't cut the goodies out entirely. Have fun with your exercise by doing it to music, going different ways on your walks, or finding a partner. Enjoy what you eat by starting a garden, learning a new recipe, or inviting a guest.

In the video below author and cardiologist James Beckerman describes the program Heart To Start. Their philosophy is that by helping others with their goals we help ourselves and working together on our goals creates value and value translates into healthier choices. You may not have a Heart to Start chapter in your community but I'm hoping there are groups that you can join such as Volkssport.

Having fun in life can reduce stress and lowering stress is another terrific way to help your heart. Stress can come from both positive and negative experience. It happens as a response to change or pressure. Signs that you're having high stress might hide in unusual places such as aches and pains, lowered energy, or fits of impatience. Even forgetfulness can be a sign that you're under high stress. Cortisol generated by long term stress threatens the heart by facilitating plaque buildup and constricting blood vessels. Don't wait until you're under stress to decide how to deal with it. Stress can hijack your higher mind. Like a thief, stress ransacks your judgement that's why you have trouble managing your emotions in a stressful moment. You're neurologically challenged to think clearly.  Develop strategies to address stress before it happens then learn how to identify the triggers in your life. Managing stress and caring for your heart requires a shift in focus such that the stress itself is not distracting you from the important job of protecting yourself from the stress and engaging your strategy to immediately restore better judgement and a center of calm.

Exercise, good diet, and learning to protect your heart in stressful experiences all involve making lifestyle choices yet there are little things you can also do each day:

  • Floss your teeth regularly and clear out the bacteria that causes gum disease which is implicated in heart diseases. 
  • Break up your sitting time. Sitting all day is linked to various heart and health problems.  If you sit in a chair or on the sofa for long periods of time stand up and look out the window, water the plants, or make a cup of tea. Do anything to break up your inactivity. 
  • Set aside 30 seconds to breath and relax throughout your day. Focused breathing will control stress and aid the heart. Did you know that your heart and breath are closely connected?
  • Wash your hands whenever you've been in community. Dutiful hygiene can protect your heart from illness.
  • Say hello to strangers. Yes, something as simple as that can increase your happiness and protect your heart and mind.

Lastly, as I wrote in a previous blog, Any current heart health plan needs to consider the impacts of mental health and environmental factors. Our hearts register environmental and internal stress even when we're not conscious of that danger. 

Aging, by itself, is a major transformation that we're all learning to navigate yet it's not our only challenge. Today's global world presents wide ranging uncertainties. With many things out of control it's important to identify things we can impact. We can't stop stress but we can shield our heart from it's dangers.  We can adjust our daily routines to include exercise, healthy foods, calming breathing intervals and simpler methods like flossing, washing our hands, minimizing exposure to harsh environments, and taking care of our mental and social health. Caring for the heart is the most important investment we can make to ensure quality of life and readiness for change. Please join me in committing to heart health.

 

Update: 3.2.20  The New York Times wants to help you build healthy habits