Small Differences That Make a Big Impact on Your Heart Health
February might be known as American Heart Awareness Month, but March is informally known as the month when all those suggestions are finally taken into consideration and tried out! Heart disease is one of the leading causes of death in the U.S. today. It is responsible for 84% of deaths for people over 65, and for women, heart disease is responsible for one in every three deaths. Because it’s such a serious medical condition, many people assume anything that would reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease would need to be just as drastic as the disease itself.
Surprise: It’s not!
The smallest changes are often the most effective when reducing your risk of heart disease, because it’s easy to turn these small changes into regular healthy habits. If you’re looking for some feasible ways to focus on your heart health after February ends, here are a few of our favorite ideas:
Start making small changes in your diet. Substituting dried herbs and spices for salt, for example, is an easy way to make your diet healthier. Eating around two cups of fruit and two cups of vegetables everyday is another simple, but effective way to make your meals healthier.
Make sure to get your blood pressure checked regularly. If you already go to doctor’s appointments on a regular basis, you may already be doing this every month or so. If not, many pharmacies have machines that will measure your blood pressure quickly.
If you’re a smoker, do your best to quit. Many adults who were once smokers say that they’ve quit, but around 8.4% of all adults over the age of 65 still smoke regularly, according to the 2013 survey “The State of Aging and Health in America.” Smoking is definitely not an easy habit to break, but it can make an enormous difference in the health of your heart. Even just decreasing the number of cigarettes you smoke each day counts for something!
Exercising is one of the obvious ways to give your health a boost, but many people don’t realize that you don’t have to break a sweat in order to reap the benefits of being active. If you find that you’ve developed a rather sedentary lifestyle, just try going for a 15 minute walk three times a day. By the end of March, start increasing these walks to 30 minutes every other day.
Take some time, every single morning, to calm your mind and to laugh a little. Many people start their day with short meditation -- maybe just 10 or 15 minutes. Other people like to begin the day with a good laugh. If you start every morning on a good note, you’ll find that it’s easier to deal with physical and mental stress throughout the rest of the day.
Speaking of mental health, take note of where you stand here. Depression affects at least one in seven Baby Boomers today, and it’s been connected with an increased risk of dying from heart disease. If you’ve been feeling a little blue lately -- which is completely normal during the winter, by the way -- some small changes can make a huge difference. You may want to ask your doctor if taking Vitamin D supplements is a good idea, or simply make sure that you spend a solid 10-15 minutes outside in the sunlight.
February may be known as the month for heart health awareness, but we’re getting ready to “March” toward better health even when it ends! Are you?
Be Good To Your Heart This February
February is well-known as American Heart Month, and not just because it’s the month when we raise awareness about heart disease. Your emotional well-being is just as important as your physical well-being -- and that’s why we use February, the month when we celebrate Valentine’s Day, as a time to discuss heart health.
There are plenty of ways to keep your heart physically healthy: eating around two servings of fruit 2-2.5 cups of veggies every day, exercising regularly, and getting enough sleep at night are all ways to ensure that your heart is at the top of its game.
But what about the emotional and psychological parts of your well-being? How does that influence the health of your heart, and how can you make sure you’re attending to this need?
Mental, Physical, and Emotional Wellbeing
These are all tied together, even if you don’t realize it. If you aren’t tending to your mental and emotional health, your physical health is probably suffering because of it.
One study found that increased levels of stress -- especially anger -- increase the likelihood of having a cardiac arrest. A strong emotion like anger increases a person’s heart rate and can even lead to life-threatening arrhythmias over time. Although physical exercise raises your heart rate more than an angry outburst does, strong emotions actually do more damage, because the body releases adrenaline. This chemical has a direct effect on the health of heart cells.
That one connection is just the tip of the iceberg. A mental illness like depression, for example, can have some very serious effects on your physical health. According to the Mental Health Foundation, depression has been linked to a 50% increased risk of dying from cancer and a 67% increased risk of dying from heart disease. For those suffering from psoriasis, depressive episodes are often linked to flare-ups. Even developing a pessimistic mindset can make it more difficult to bounce back from the flu, because your immune system is already weakened.
Developing Healthy Habits
This is more than just exercising every day, although regular exercise is recommended because it helps foster a healthy state of mind. Developing positive mental and emotional habits can be done in a variety of ways. It’s all about focusing on activities that help you relax and make you happy! Here’s just a few of our top suggestions:
Get creative. From adult coloring books to woodworking to writing poetry, there are so many ways you can do this.
Spend time with your loved ones. Why should Valentine’s Day be the only day we focus on those we love? According to a recent Gallup survey on happiness, the top three days when people are most happy are Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Independence Day. It’s no coincidence that these three days are filled with friends and family.
Learn something new. Learn a new language. Try cooking Thai cuisine. Take up photography. Delve into a series of documentaries. Don’t think about it too much. You might just be surprised by what interests you when you open your mind.
Connect spiritually. Most Americans say that they are religious or spiritual and this has a very positive impact on mental health, Meditation, mindfulness, and prayer are some of the best ways to calm your mind.
Volunteer for a cause you care about. It doesn’t matter if you decide to raise awareness of heart disease or if you volunteer at your local library. Giving your time to a cause you care about is something that’s directly linked to good mental and emotional wellbeing.
How do you take care of your psychological health and inner wellbeing? Be sure to share your tips with us, and don’t let this important part of your health fall by the wayside even after February ends!
Eat Your Way to a Healthier Heart
Proper nutrition is one of the most important aspects in a healthy lifestyle. It’s also something that can help you fight off heart disease before it sets in! Many adults associate the word “diet” with a negative connotation, because the typical diets you hear about focus on what you should be taking out of your meals. Sure, you want to avoid eating too much of any one thing, and if you eat a lot of foods that are high in salt, sugar, and carbohydrates, then you probably want to cut down on those foods.
But a friendlier way to approach a healthy diet is to focus on the foods you should be adding to your daily meals. So let’s take a look!
Fruits and Veggies
You should be eating about two cups of fruit and two cups of vegetables every day. This might seem like a lot at first, but if you break down those two cups into three main meals (and even a few snacks in between), it’s nothing to be afraid of.
Try to get as much variety as possible with these foods because no one fruit or vegetable contains every single nutrient needed by your body. The best way to ensure that you’re getting a good variety is pretty simple: just focus on the colors! Believe it or not, this is one technique that many nutritionists recommend, and it’s pretty effective. Just try to include as many colors as possible, and you’ll be good to go.
Fiber not only keeps your digestive system running regularly; it can also lower cholesterol. Dietary fiber is technically a carbohydrate, but your body can’t digest it. As it passes through your system, it can help your body digest certain foods and absorb essential nutrients. There are two types of fiber -- soluble and insoluble -- both of which are important. High-fiber foods typically contain both types.
There are plenty of foods high in fiber, so being a picky eater is no excuse! Whole grains and oats are good sources of fiber, as are nuts, seeds, lentils, and legumes, such as beans. Citrus fruits, apples, and certain vegetables are also good sources of fiber.
Not All Fats Are Equal
When people talk about food being too high in fat, they’re generally referring to saturated fats. Unsaturated fats, however, are good for you. Saturated fats are found in animal by-products (like cheese and butter), dark meats (like beef and pork), processed meats, gravies made from animal fat, and things called “tropical oils” (such as coconut oil and palm oil). Fried foods and sugary foods, of course, are also high in saturated fats (and salt... and sugar...and carbs....).
Unsaturated fats are sometimes called “the ‘good’ fat,” because they’re much better than saturated fats, but should still be consumed in moderation. Foods with unsaturated fats have been shown to reduce cholesterol and inflammation, which are two things that can help achieve a healthier heart. Foods with “good” fat include olive oil, most nut oils and butters, olives, avocados, fish, flax seeds, soybean oil, and canola oil, just to name a few. These foods are definitely good additions to a healthy diet.
Food Is Your Friend
Your body needs food. There’s no way around it. While it’s important that you make healthy choices regarding the types of foods you eat, it’s just as important that you don’t skip meals. Most nutritionists agree that it’s better to eat smaller meals and snacks more frequently than to eat three very large meals per day; if you’re watching your weight, it’s also very important that you don’t skip meals. Skipping meals actually lowers your metabolism and deprives your body of nutrients, which makes it that much more difficult to process foods when you do eat.
Like the rest of our body, our vision can decline with age. Free radicals and inflammation caused by high energy light can damage the sensitive structures of the lens and retina of our eyes. Vitamin C, carotenoids, alpha-lipoic acid, and omege-3 fatty acids are especially critical to eye health. Spinach, kale, and broccoli are filled with important carotenoids the eyes need. In addition, two servings of fish a week can lower your risk of macular degeneration.
The air pollution and other toxins you are exposed to on a daily basis take their toll on your lungs. Vegetables like kale, broccoli, and cabbage contain antioxidants and sulfur compounds that keep your lungs clean and free of toxins. The carotenoids in red or orange colored fruits and vegetables that keep your eyes healthy can also reduce your risk of developing asthma and omega-3s have a beneficial effect on those suffering from chronic respiratory diseases. Vitamin-C rich foods make your lungs more efficient at oxygenating your body. Spices such as ginger, turmeric, and garlic as well as fruits such as blueberries and apples also promote overall healthy lung function.
Found in fatty fish, flax seed oil, and walnuts, Omega-3 Fatty Acids reduce inflammation throughout the body, and that’s good news for your heart. Inflammation can damage your blood vessels and lead to heart disease. To increase your intake of this vital nutrient, add walnuts to your salad, or flax seed oil to your salad dressing. The American Heart Association recommends two servings of fish per week to reduce your risk of heart attack. Grass-fed beef and enriched eggs are also high in omega-3s.
Olive oil is a source of healthy, monounsaturated fats proven to actually slow brain aging. Recent studies have shown a diet high in blueberries and strawberries can slow mental decline in areas such as memory and focus. Although Popeye ate spinach to build muscle, you should eat it for the antioxidant lutein, which is thought to help protect against cognitive decline. Walnuts help promote blood flow, which in turn allows for efficient delivery of oxygen to the brain and can improve memory, as does caffeine, in moderation. And last but definitely not least, dark chocolate. The flavonoids in dark chocolate regulate and lower blood pressure, which in turn increases blood flow and fosters brain health.
There are many variables that determine how long you live, only you can influence how well you live. Following a healthy lifestyle, staying active, and eating an antioxidant-packed diet, you can help slow the aging process and perhaps even stave off age-related effects on your body. Adding these healthy and delicious super foods to your diet keeps the effects of aging at bay.
The month of March is ending, but the Bankers Fidelity team couldn’t pass up the opportunity to use this pun (which is, quite frankly, pretty great). Whether you’re walking, jogging, running, hopping, skipping, or marching, these cardiovascular exercises are simple but effective ways to keep your heart healthy all year round.
Running and jogging (which is a slightly slower and less intense version of running) are good for you because they’re aerobic exercises that build up strength in a variety of muscles -- the most important one being your heart.
Not interested in running? You aren’t alone. A lot of people dislike running or can’t run because of an injury or illness. Luckily, walking is still an aerobic exercise that has many health benefits. The American Heart Association recommends that adults get at least 30 minutes of “moderate-intensity” aerobic activity -- like walking -- five days a week or 25 minutes of “vigorous” aerobic activity -- like jogging or running -- three days a week to stay healthy.
But what exactly are the benefits of these exercises?
Walking, jogging, and running have been known to:
Lower “bad” cholesterol, which helps lower blood pressure, which reduces the risk of stroke and heart disease
Improve the immune system by stimulating the activity of bacteria-fighting cells
Help with weight loss and/or keep body fat at healthy levels
Increase bone strength, muscle mass, and overall flexibility
There are also some important mental health benefits of these exercises:
Vigorous physical exercises release three important chemicals in the brain: norepinephrine, serotonin and dopamine. These chemicals boost happiness while lowering stress levels.
Hormones called endorphins are released during intense exercise as well; these chemicals are often called the “feel-good hormones” because they boost general happiness. They’re also the reason why some people are inexplicably addicted to fitness!
Walking can be a great opportunity to socialize with friends and neighbors -- and if you have a dog, you can help Fluffy stay in shape, too. Making meaningful connections with other people (and with your pets) is very important for your mental wellbeing.
A study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science found that walking outside in nature could lower the risk of developing depression -- or even help fight it off. Even though researchers still don’t know why being in a natural green environment is better for mental health than city life is, they believe it has something to do with stress levels in the brain. Even if you live in a city, the nearest park will do!
Fatty acids are broken down during digestion, and then absorbed into the blood. According to the American Heart Association (AHA), Omega-3 Fatty acids decrease the risk of abnormal heartbeats, slow growth of plaque, and work to lower blood pressure.
Examples of Omega-3 fatty acids:
Fish (salmon, mackerel, mackerel, herring, whitefish) flaxseed oil, basil, broccoli, walnuts, spinach, grape leaves.
AHA spokeswoman Alice H. Lichtenstein, DSc, states “studies have shown that foods that have a lot of fiber are clearly associated with lower risk of heart disease.” The Institute of Medicine Dietary Reference Intakes recommends 21 grams of fiber per day for women 50 and older, and 30 for men 50 and older.
Examples of fiber:
Fruits (apples, bananas, oranges, strawberries, raspberries), oatmeal, whole grain rice, lentils, chickpeas, almonds, avocados, peanuts, couscous
Trans-fat (Steer Clear!)
Unlike fatty acids, trans fat can be very harmful to your heart because of their tendency to raise bad cholesterol. The AHA recommends that trans fats make up less than 1 percent of your daily calories. Avoid foods labeled “hydrogenated oil” or “partially hydrogenated oil.”
Examples of trans-fat:
Packages snacks, baked goods, stick margarine, milk, cheese, high-fat animal products (beef, pork, lamb)
Live a long and healthy life by eating right. Visit us today for the best long term care insurance.
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