This year, as everyone else is vowing to lose the last ten pounds, focus your efforts on a long-term resolution: your heart health. Although it often takes a back seat, ensuring you have a healthy heart is one of the most important things you can do to take stock of your health and ensure that you’ll have plenty of years of resolution-making ahead.
“Any time is the right time to start paying attention to and improving your heart health,” says Andrea Becker, MD, cardiologist at Lankenau Medical Center, Main Line Health. “It doesn’t have to be January 1 for you to make the resolution to make your heart a priority every day of every year.”
Fortunately, making simple (and free) lifestyle changes can improve your heart health. Below, Dr. Becker outlines six ways you can make your heart health a priority this year, next year, and every year for the rest of your life.
1. Make an appointment.
Unfortunately, most people are willing to put a visit to the doctor on the back burner. Demanding work and social schedules often make it difficult to squeeze in an appointment. This year, change that pattern.
Make an appointment with your primary care physician to discuss your overall health and make heart health your priority. Take note of your cholesterol, blood pressure, triglycerides, and weight. Knowing these numbers will allow you to better understand your risk for heart disease.
2. Control your stress levels.
In recent years, a busy schedule and long, stressful days have become viewed as a badge of honor. Don’t get duped into believing that stress is good for you. Not only can stress increase your risk for heart attack and stroke, it can also weaken your immune system.
Although you won’t be able to say goodbye to stress to completely, try easing your burden at work or at home by saying no to projects you don’t have time for and setting aside time for yourself. When you find yourself feeling stressed, try relaxation tactics like reading, listening to music, meditating, or yoga.
3. Learn your family history.
One of the most important indicators of heart health is your family history. Talk to immediate family members like blood-related grandparents, parents, aunts, uncles, and siblings to find out if there have been any heart problems in your family. Communicate these findings to your doctor. If you have a significant history of heart disease, your doctor may recommend you be under the care of a cardiologist.
4. Reduce your salt intake.
Too much salt in your diet can lead to high blood pressure, which can cause serious heart problems like heart attack or stroke. Unfortunately, it’s often hard to avoid, as it’s found in almost every processed and packaged food. This year, slash your salt habit by substituting fresh herbs and spices for salt, sauces, or marinades to season meats. In recipes that call for salt, cut the amount in half, and avoid serving dinner rolls or bread at the table.
5. Brown bag your lunch.
Ordering take-out for lunch can be tempting, but it’s one of the most significant sources of extra calories, too. Control your portions and calories by packing your own lunch, which can help you control your weight, an important factor in fighting heart disease. Try half of a sandwich and low-fat soup or tortilla chips and fresh salsa.
6. Buy a pedometer.
Exercising regularly is one of the best ways to improve your heart health, no matter what weight you are. To get you moving in the right direction, buy a pedometer and begin tracking the number of steps you take each day. Your goal should be about 10,000 steps.
Take the first step in understanding your heart health without even leaving your computer. Our heart risk assessment tool can help you assess and identify your potential risk for heart disease. Get started now, and discuss the results with your doctor. To find a Main Line Health doctor or cardiologist in your area, visit our website.