As a kid, growing up in Georgia (country, not the state), I remember hearing words “heart attack” very often. Maybe it was the traditional diet that circles around mtsvadi, khinkali and khachapuri, and maybe it was the lifestyle where a majority of population over the age of 40 wore gym pants just to stretch out on a couch after a long day at work, but it seemed as every other person around me had some sort of a heart issue. As a matter of fact, all four of my grandparents passed away from various forms of a heart disease. That is why every time I get a pinch in my chest I panic and pick up my phone to schedule an appointment with my doctor. Right away I jump on a treadmill, start to re-think my diet, and try to lower my stress level, but those efforts don’t last long – as pain fades away, so is my attempt at a healthier lifestyle.
And so, when at a recent health event at work I heard that heart disease is the leading cause of death for men and women in the world, I was troubled. The good news, said the presenter, is that 80% of cardiac issues can be prevented through education and lifestyle changes. Lack of exercise, a poor diet and other unhealthy habits can take their toll over the years. Anyone at any age can benefit from simple steps to keep their heart healthy, you are never too young— or too old — to take care of your heart.
1) BE ACTIVE. Get at least 30 minutes of moderate physical activity each day (for example, fast walking or taking stairs instead of escalators), five times per week. Children need 60 minutes a day–every day–of physical activity, so find ways to workout with your kids.
2) MODIFY YOUR FAMILY’S DIET. Choose foods low in sodium, saturated and trans fats. Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables, fiber-rich whole grains, nuts, and fish (preferably the oily kind, twice a week). Select leanest cuts of meat and poultry, limit red meat, salt and sugar-sweetened beverages. Introduce such items to your diet as flax seeds and raw unprocessed coconut oil.
3) CONTROL YOUR CHOLESTEROL. Cholesterol is a waxy substance and our bodies use it to make cell membranes and some hormones, but when you have too much bad cholesterol (LDL), it combines with white blood cells and forms plaque in your veins and arteries. These blockages lead to heart disease and stroke.
4) MANAGE YOUR BLOOD PRESSURE. High blood pressure is a major risk factor for heart disease and stroke. When your blood pressure stays within healthy ranges, you reduce the strain on your heart, arteries, and kidneys which keeps you healthier longer.
5) LOSE WEIGHT. If you have too much fat — especially if a lot of it is at your waist — you’re at higher risk for such health problems as high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol and diabetes. If you’re overweight or obese, you can reduce your risk for heart disease by successfully losing weight and keeping it off. Even losing as few as five or ten pounds can produce a dramatic blood pressure reduction. Calculate your body mass index (BMI) to help you determine if you need to lose weight.
6) REDUCE BLOOD SUGAR. Most of the food we eat is turned into glucose (or blood sugar) that our bodies use for energy. Your body makes a hormone called insulin that acts like a carrier to take your food energy into your cells. If your fasting blood sugar level is below 100, you are in the healthy range. If not, your results could indicate diabetes or pre-diabetes. Although diabetes is treatable and you can live a healthy life with this condition, even when glucose levels are under control it greatly increases the risk of heart disease and stroke.
7) QUIT SMOKING. Did you know that just one year after you quit, you’ll cut your risk of coronary heart disease by 50 percent?
8) DON’T LET STRESS GET OUT OF CONTROL. In this fast paced environment, it is difficult to stay completely stress free no matter where you live. My personal mantra on dealing with pressure is not to keep bad memories in my head, not to stress over things I can’t control or change and always have a plan B (and a plan C in case if plan B doesn’t work :-). I also tend to “file-away” good memories such as things I am proud of, fun events and faces that make me smile, and if I am ever down in my spirits, I go straight to that “file” and “retrieve” those memories and all goes back to normal.
And so, to add to my list of feel-good memories, on May 19th I will be joining my colleagues for the 2016 Wall Street Run and Heart Walk organized by American Heart Association in NYC. This is a competitive 3-mile run and a non-competitive walk, with more than 11,000 people anticipated to attend. Participants will enjoy free health screenings, nutrition and fitness demonstrations, information and product sampling. You are welcome to join my fundraising efforts or start your own campaign. If you are in New York, sign up and come downtown at 6 pm on May 19th and take part! Look for similar events in your area and take care of your HEART!
Visit Americas Heart Association site for more information on how to stay healthy.