According to the American Heart Association (AHA), “cardiovascular disease—including heart disease, stroke, and high blood pressure—is responsible for one out of every three deaths. It is the No. 1 killer of American women and men, and it is a leading cause of serious illness and disability.”
The good news? Heart disease can often be prevented when you make healthy choices and manage health conditions. And here’s a bonus: repeatedly, research supports that what’s good for your heart is also good for your brain!
February—American Heart Health Month—is a great time to assess what you can do to prevent and address cardiovascular disease. Here are some fun and easy tips you can adopt and incorporate into your daily routine that deliver positive results. The AHA’s Healthy for Good™ EAT SMART! ADD COLOR! MOVE MORE! BE WELL! approach is a good guide:
- Cook more meals at home. Here’s a link to AHA’s heart healthy recipes.
- Keep your kitchen well-stocked with fruits, vegetables, lean protein, and whole grains.
- Concentrate on smaller portions.
- Control your use of sodium, substituting herbs and spices.
- Include healthy fats, such as nuts, seeds, avocados, and fatty fish.
- Add filling, fiber-rich foods such as legumes, beans, whole grains, vegetables, and fruits.
- Look for cooking classes where you can build your skills in the kitchen and get great recipes. Community centers, area grocery stores such as PCC Natural Markets and schools such as Bastyr University often offer classes that are affordable and practical.
- Stay away from added sugar and additives.
- Eat a rainbow of fruits and vegetables. The more color on your plate, the better.
- Find new ways to prepare and cook fruits and vegetables to enhance flavor. Have you ever roasted vegetables, like broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, and Brussels sprouts? How about grilled fruit? Grilled pineapple is wonderful. Try a light sauté or quick stir fry. Check out this Better Homes & Gardens webpage for ideas.
- Apples, bananas, and oranges are great grab-and-go snacks.
- Especially in winter, frozen vegetables and fruits are a wonderful way to add to your produce rainbow. When spring rolls around, visit your neighborhood farmers market for the best in-season produce.
- Don’t forget your leafy greens—spinach, kale, and chard taste great, whether raw in salad or sautéed in a side dish.
- Tend a garden! Even if you don’t have space, you can always grow fresh herbs in small pots indoors. Get creative with containers on a patio. Participate in a P-Patch community garden in Seattle or through King County Parks.
- In winter, it can be challenging to engage in regular physical activity, but there is plenty you can do at home, at a senior center, in your neighborhood, or even at the mall. Walking is considered one of the best sources of exercise. Throw on some comfortable, weather-appropriate clothes and good fitting footwear, and you’re ready to go:
- At your local library, find an exercise DVD such as Gentle Yoga or Chair Exercise.
- If you prefer exercising with a group, check your local Y and community center for Silver Sneakers or EnhanceFitness programs.
- Mall walking programs offer safe, covered places to walk. There’s good lighting inside and ample parking outside. Check out Northgate Mall’s Heart and Sole Mall Walking Club and Bellevue Square’s Walk for Life program, sponsored by Overlake Medical Center. Check your local mall for similar programs.
- Look for group walking programs like Feet First, which promotes walking in your neighborhood, or Sound Steps through Seattle Parks & Recreation.
- There’s even a Senior Zoo Walkers program at Woodland Park Zoo.
- Are you a smoker? Find a smoking cessation class or support group. You’ll feel better. You’ll save money. And most importantly, your heart will thank you!
- Reduce stress. It can’t be said often enough, but unmanaged stress can contribute to poor health outcomes. Eating right and regular exercise can certainly help. One example is Mindfulness Meditation, a free program at the Frye Art Museum.
- Clear your mind with activity: an added benefit to regular physical activity is how it enhances flexibility, strength, calm, and focus.
- Sleep! It can’t be said enough—get at least seven hours of sleep each night. Watch your caffeine intake later in the day, as this may interrupt your sleep.
- Find healthy outlets such as reading, watercolor, drawing, time spent volunteering, coffee or lunch with friends, and gardening, as these can all contribute to your health. Find something you love to do and make time for it regularly.
- If you are a caregiver, invest in self-care. Find a support group, join a group online, and find others who can help you care for your loved one so you can take a break. It’s essential.
While this isn’t an all-inclusive list of ideas for enhancing heart health, it can serve as a jumpstart. The important thing is that you find several things you can do on a regular basis and build from there. Be adventurous. This isn’t a race, but a slow and steady journey of adopting and adapting new, healthy habits that will contribute to your heart and cardiovascular (and brain) health. You are worth the investment!
May you EAT SMART! ADD COLOR! MOVE MORE! BE WELL! in this new year, and beyond.
Contributor Keri Pollock directs marketing and communications for Aging Wisdom, an Aging Life Care™ practice (geriatric care management) serving King, south Snohomish, and Whatcom Counties, and co-chairs the UW Elder Friendly Futures Conference.