Healthy Living: Improving Your Heart Health
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Improve a Poor Diet
It’s safe to say that in order to maintain optimum health (and not just prevent heart disease) there are foods we should eat in moderation, and some we shouldn’t eat at all.
But not everyone agrees on the overall effect of diet on heart health. “Diet is more important if you’re overweight because it puts stress on the heart,” says Keller, “but in general, it’s not so much what you eat, but how much you eat.”
Health professionals who disagree maintain there is a vital link between what we eat and how our heart functions. Some feel strongly that a strict vegan diet is the only way to prevent a wide array of chronic diseases.
It is possible to remake your plate and retain—or regain—your health.
Schulman treated a heart-attack patient whose treatment included low-cholesterol medication, but the patient opted to radically change the way he ate instead. Much to Schulman’s surprise, the patient completely turned his coronary disease around.
“It happens,” he says. “He exercises at a vigorous level and he eats only green and orange foods. Nothing else. He is retired and has a lot of time to shop, plan and cook. It is extremely hard to do, but it’s important to note that many more can do it with medication and a prudent diet.”
“It can be overwhelming to start a crash diet. It can fail or even make things worse,” says Dalal. “It’s far better to take small steps to encourage better eating, like placing a bowl of attractive-looking fruit on the table rather than cookies or chips.”
The American Heart Association recommends the following dietary guidelines for an adult consuming 2,000 calories daily:
• At least 4.5 cups of fruits and vegetables a day.
• At least two 3.5-ounce servings of fish (preferably oily types) a week.
• At least three 1-ounce servings of fiber-rich whole grains a day.
• Less than 1,500 mg. of salt a day.
• No more than 36 ounces of sugar-sweetened beverages a week.
• At least four servings of nuts, legumes and/or seeds a week.
• No more than two servings of processed meats a week.
Note: Saturated fat should make up no more than 7 percent of your total caloric intake.
Control Your Diabetes
There’s an indisputable link between high blood sugar (or glucose) levels and many chronic conditions, including heart disease. In diabetic patients, a lack of insulin (or ineffective insulin) means the glucose in the blood isn’t being transported into your cells. Excess glucose can also damage eyes, kidneys and other organs.
According to Dalal, “You’re at risk, even if your blood sugar is a little higher than usual.” The good news is that clinical testing has shown you can prevent onset by up to four years with vigilance.
Mild forms of diabetes can be prevented by diet and exercise, while more severe cases can be treated with insulin, administered either by mouth or injection.
Find Ways to Lessen Stress
Because there’s little clinical proof linking stress and heart disease, some health professionals hesitate to include stress relief in treatment, much less in prevention.
“Years ago we talked about the Type A lifestyle and how it affected your health, but the data [on stress] is less consistent than that on other factors,” says Schulman.
And yet, the American Heart Association offers a wealth of information on ways to combat stress. This includes methods of relaxing, finding pleasure and being more positive. Because debilitating stress can often come on fast, the AHA offers the following “emergency” tips for dealing with it:
• Count to 10 before reacting.
• Take three to five deep breaths.
• Walk away from a stressful situation, saying you’ll handle it later.
• Go for a walk.
• Set your watch five to 10 minutes ahead to avoid the stress of being late.
• Break down big problems into smaller parts.