Your cardiologist will likely prescribe medication to manage your blood pressure. He or she may also recommend medications to lower cholesterol or prevent blood clots (or both). In addition to managing your symptoms with these medications, you can take control of your health by making a variety of lifestyle changes.
Please note that, if you’ve been diagnosed with a heart condition, it is imperative that you talk to your doctor before implementing changes to diet and exercise.
Put Out Those Cigarettes
By this time, it should surprise no one that the Centers for Disease Control considers smoking to be America’s leading cause of preventable death. Society as a whole understands that smoking is bad for you, but many people do not recognize how dangerous it is for their heart.
Smoking affects heart health in two main ways. The first is the way nicotine constricts arteries, forcing the heart to work harder. The second is the fact that elevated carbon monoxide leads to lower levels of oxygen in your blood. The result is an increased need for oxygen but a decreased ability to pump oxygen to your heart.
When you quit smoking, you experience lower blood pressure after only a few days, as your body rids itself of nicotine and carbon monoxide. Throughout the first year, improvements in breathing and blood flow continue.
If you are ready to quit smoking, talk to your doctor about cessation programs. These are frequently offered through insurers, medical facilities, and employers, but also by the American Cancer Society and American Lung Association. An added bonus? Many health insurers offer incentives for members who quit smoking.
We’ve talked before about the importance of exercise in lowering risk for chronic disease and overall health and wellness. However, it’s important enough to say again: Regular aerobic exercise is vital to heart health.
If you receive a diagnosis of heart disease, talk to your doctor about a safe exercise program. He or she may order a stress test to determine the appropriate level of activity for your health. For healthy individuals, and those with their physician’s approval, the standard recommendation is at least150 minutes each week of moderate aerobic activity.
What does this look like in practice? First, 150 minutes breaks down into 30 minutes per day, five days per week. You may break this into smaller increments if either time constraints or your level of fitness requires it, such as three 10-minute sessions or two 15-minute sessions.
Moderate aerobics is any activity that increases heart rate and breathing while still allowing you to maintain a conversation. This includes walking, light jogging, dancing, gardening, chores such as sweeping and vacuuming, biking, and swimming. It can also be yoga, Pilates, and similar programs.
One way to ensure the success of an exercise program is to set goals for yourself. For example, if you can only walk for 10 minutes when you first begin, work toward increasing this to 15 minutes, then 20, and so on until you reach 30. You can also time how long it takes you to walk one mile, and work toward decreasing that time.
If you experience chest pain or feel faint or light-headed, stop exercising immediately. If your symptoms continue once you’ve had the chance to cool down, call your doctor.
Healthful Eating for a Healthy Heart
If you received a diagnosis of heart disease, your doctor likely provided information on heart-healthy foods. We’ll go ahead and break it down anyway, because everything you eat and drink affects your body’s health, or lack thereof.
A healthy diet focuses on plant life, lean protein, and moderate amounts of dairy and healthy fats. Plant life includes five to seven servings per day of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, nuts and seeds, beans, and legumes. An appropriate serving size of lean protein is between 4 and 6 ounces, about the size of a deck of cards. Healthy fats include avocados and olive oil.
Though you should focus on what you can eat, you do need to limit and avoid some items. This includes salt, sugars and sugar substitutes (glucose, sucrose, etc.), saturated fats, and trans fats.
Avoid processed foods as much as possible, as these are full of everything you don’t want while offering little nutritional value. Your goal is whole, real food that you prepare at home.
For more information on what constitutes a serving size and ideas on developing a healthy diet, check out the USDA’s Choose My Plate, which offers a wide variety of dietary advice and resources.
Heart Disease? Consult with Your Doctor
Receiving a diagnosis of heart disease can be frightening, but you can make changes to take charge of your health. Talk to your doctor before beginning any program. Once you begin noticing changes and improvements to your health, continue taking any prescribed medications unless your cardiologist tells you it’s okay to stop.