Patient Education

Helpful Tips for a Healthy Heart

How to Get a Healthy Heart

As we approach a certain age, many of us start to consider heart disease and what we can do to prevent it. Why the worry? Well, as the leading cause of death for men and women, almost 600,000 of us, or 1 in every 4 of us in the United States die of heart disease every year. 

Weight - Aging and Heart Disease

As we age our bodies lose muscle leading to a decreased metabolism. One way to counteract that is to continue to build muscle into old age by lifting weights and doing resistance exercises. But, another obvious way is to consume a little less. When we do that, we need to realize that we have to get the same nutrients from less food. So, eating “nutrient dense” foods are key. You can get started with this issue by looking at your own BMI and seeing if it is in a normal range. Maintaining a healthy weight is a goal worth achieving for a healthy heart.

Diet Ideas and Tips for a Healthy Heart

We all know it. You cannot keep eating pizza, ribs, wings, and all the desserts forever. Somewhere along the line, we need to start thinking about what we put in our bodies. No diet plan will work, however, if it is so strict and unappealing that we never enjoy our food. The key is not to be rigid, but rather, to make most of your meals healthy and just occasionally indulge. No matter what your current health, it is always wise to check with a doctor before starting a whole new way of eating. Below are some general guidelines to increase your chances of a healthy heart:

  1. Eat more fruits and vegetables. There is nothing more basic than the fact that vegetables and fruits offer vitamins, minerals, and fiber to help control choloesterool. If you do nothing else, work on incorporating more plant life into your diet. Some ideas are to eat salads every day, make yourself raw snack veggies like carrots, celery, pepper strips, and cucumbers. And soups are a great way to add vegetables into your diet.
  2. Select Whole Grains. Avoiding overly processed and baked good foods and white flour are key. When you have a choice to make – go for the whole grain version in pastas, breads, and other types of foods. When possible, skip the bread and eat your grains whole for example in oatmeal or rice.
  3. Use Flaxseed. Flaxseed is a wonder food full of healthy omega 3 fatty acids which are thought to be very protective of the heart and arteries. You need to store the seeds in the fridge and grind them in a coffee grinder right before eating for the best benefits. Add to salads, baked goods, or oatmeal for a nutritious boost. Flax has some laxative effects, so limit yourself to just a tablespoon or two a day.
  4. Cut the fat. We all know beef and other high fat meats have a bad reputation for “clogging artieries.” Many of us also really like bacon cheeseburgers… So, the point is not to never again eat these things, but eat them infrequently and when you do, eat a small portion. Cheese and other dairy products are also very high in the types of fats that lead to inflammation and high cholesterol. When possible, limit you intake and select the low-fat varieties of dairy products for a healthier heart.  As for chips, junk food, and butter - well, you know what you need to do!

Don’t mourn the loss of ice cream and hot dogs just yet. Some foods that are very enjoyable can also be good for our hearts:

  1. Red Wine. Something in red wine called reservitol, is protective for the arteries. Doctors usually do not encourage us to drink more than one glass a day, however, since alcohol in larger quantities can lead to other health problems.
  2. Dark Chocolate. The darker and more pure the chocolate, the better it is for your health. Again, chocolate is high in other things like fat – so limiting intake to an ounce or so a day is important. But, it has ingredients that are belileved to reduce heart disease by as much as one third.
  3. Green and Black tea. The jury is out on caffeine in general with some studies showing that high caffeine intake can cause heart rhythm issues and other studies showing a protective effect. So, if you like your caffeine, green and black tea may be a good choice since they contain flavinols that are believed to protect and maintain a healthy heart.
  4. Walnuts. Most nuts are pretty healthy for us in small doses. But, walnuts have the highest concentration of omega-3 fatty acids that protect the heart.

Exercise for a Healthy Heart

According to the National Institution of Health, there are four types of exercise: Endurance, Flexibility, Balance, and Strength. Of these, endurance, or “cardio” exercises are the best for a healthy heart. Endurance/cardio exercise increase the heart and breathing rates and include things like walking, running, hiking, swimming, biking, aerobics, etc. It is important to do some cardio every week – how much depends on your health factors. It is important to always check with a doctor first before starting any new exercise routine, particularly if you are advanced in age or have any other chronic conditions. If while exercising you find yourself feeling dizzy or unable to catch your breath, you are probably working too hard and should stop.

A simple regular walking routine is also an easy and accessible option for many. Ask your doctor for suggestions that are right for you.

The Human Heart – Emotions

Is it a myth to die of a broken heart? Have you ever had a “racing heart” when you were excited? Or did your heart ever feel like it was beating up into your throat when you were frightened? Frustration can even lead to a tightening feeling in the chest. Even ancient people have long associated the human heart with our emotions.

As it turns out, the connection is true. Chronic frustration, stress, fear and even depression can be bad for the heart and lead to an increase in heart disease. Some research has suggested that three things can be particularly healthy for our hearts:

Gratitude. No matter what the situation, most of us have something to be grateful for. Making a list and conjuring the feeling of gratitude about what you can appreciate about your life every day appears to have a real effect on the smoothness and rhythm of the heartbeat. So, a few minutes a day to remind yourself of what you have to be grateful for can lead to a healthy heart.

Laughter. Watch comedies on tv, read the comic strip in the paper, and hang out with fun people who have a good sense of humor.

Connection. Being isolated and not having much social engagement is shown to have a relationship to higher rates of heart disease. Get out, find a group, take a class, call an old friend – your heart will be lighter.

Sleep and Heart Health

Many people find sleep to be no problem, but some of us can’t fall asleep easily, we wake too early, or we sleep too lightly. Ways to improve sleep:

  • Limit caffeine intake and stop consuming it by 2pm
  • Nap if you feel tired, but limit it to 20 minutes so that it doesn’t effect your longer night sleep
  • Keep a regular sleep schedule going to bed and waking the same times every day
  • Don’t watch tv or use other electronic devices before bed – or if you do, go to a different room so your bedroom is just for sleeping.
  • Early or mid day exercise, particularly in fresh air, has been shown to improve night time sleep. Exercising too close to bedtime can energize you too much.

The research shows the most correlation between sleep and increased risk of coronary heart disease when people are getting less than 5 hours per night. Ideally, most people should have between 7-8 hours of sleep per night.

So, keep a healthy heart in mind as you sleep, eat, and go about your day.  If you can do even some of these things, it will help!

The Healthy Elderly Heart

Aging does not necessarily mean that our cardiovascular system must be diseased.  Following the healthy heart tips above can help delay and avoid the issues commonly associated with aging and heart disease.  The earlier you start with these good habits the better! 

More Helpful Information

American Heart Association- www.heart.org
Medline Plus- http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/heartdiseases.html
HealthyPeople.gov- http://www.healthypeople.gov/2020/topicsobjectives2020/overview.aspx?topicid=21
Mayo Clinic- http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/heart-disease/in-depth/heart-disease-prevention/art-20046502
Wayne Memorial Hospital- http://www.waynehealth.org/
Goldsboro YMCA- https://goldsboroymca.org/newsite/
Goldsboro Walking Trails & Greenways- http://www.traillink.com/city/goldsboro-nc-trails.aspx