(BPT) - If you’re looking to improve your heart health, each day is all about making a choice that moves you in the right direction. You’d rather stay in with a big bowl of ice cream. But maybe today, you could click off the TV set and take a walk with a friend.
It's easy to see why heart health is a pressing concern. One in three adults live with one or more types of cardiovascular disease, according a review published in the journal Circulation.
Over time, changes in the heart and blood vessels can lead to a host of devastating problems, including heart attack, heart failure and stroke. On top of that, lifestyle factors, such as poor diet and a lack of physical activity, lead to one in five deaths in the U.S., according to a study published in 2011 in the Journal of Public Health.
The good news is as the weeks and months pass, these healthy choices do pay off and make meaningful shifts in your health profile.
Turning these choices into habits is well worth the time and effort. Choice by choice, you could see big improvements.
1. Reach for whole foods
Diets abound, but the classic Mediterranean-based diet always comes up as a winner for heart health. It’s simple to follow because it's made up of whole, healthy foods, like fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts, olive oil and fish. In 2013, a study in the New England Journal of Medicine said switching to a Mediterranean diet can prevent 30 percent of heart attacks, strokes and heart disease deaths in high-risk people.
2. Get up and move more often
The Surgeon General says 2.5 hours of moderate intensity exercise each week promotes good heart health. To get started, visit your doctor to find out what is safe for you. Then work activities you enjoy into your routine, whether it’s a walk in the woods, a leisurely bike ride or swimming laps at the community pool.
3. Seek the company of others
This may not come up at the doctor’s office, but the time we spend with friends and family does reward us with better heart health. Isolation is linked to depression and that’s linked to higher rates of heart disease. Pick up the phone and call someone. Schedule lunch with an old friend, plan a special day with younger relatives or sign up for an activity.
4. De-stress and decompress
If you constantly feel the effects of stress in your body, it may be time to take steps to reverse that. Scientists haven’t found definitive proof, but they believe stress could trigger inflammation, a precursor to heart disease. So go ahead, and seek some joy: Laughter releases “good” HDL cholesterol. Exercise is also a proven stress buster, and studies show a mindfulness mediation practice reduces blood pressure.
5. Know your risks
Hopefully, you’re already making those annual doctor visits because your blood sugar, blood pressure, weight and cholesterol can all tell us something about our heart health. But what you really want to know is whether there is fatty buildup in your arteries, because toocan lead to stroke, peripheral vascular disease and carotid artery stenosis. Doctor office tests offer indicators and warning signs, but they don’t tell you how much you’re blocked.
Luckily, there’s a safe and affordable test that gives you the hard data on what is happening inside your body: vascular screening. If you think learning the truth will discourage you, one study indicates the opposite may be true.
The report published in the Journal of Community Medicine and Health Education says people who had vascular screening reported more positive changes to their health several months after their vascular screening than the control subjects who weren’t screened. For example, 61 percent of screened respondents said they ate healthier foods since the screening, versus the 46 percent who were not screened.
Truth is empowering and it can give people a powerful incentive to change, even if the news isn’t what you’re hoping to hear. To get your own vascular test, find out when Life Line Screening is coming to your community. You’ll get a results pack you can take to your doctor, so you can work on a plan together to improve your health.
To find out when a Life Line screening clinic may be scheduled in your area, visit www.lifelinescreening.com or call (877) 754-9631.