Have you ever decided that you are going to start taking better care of yourself? For two weeks you avoid fried food, have a salad every day, and go to the gym after work. At the end of two weeks you are sore, exhausted and stressed out. You decide to reward yourself. You sit down on the couch, eat half a pizza and chase it with a couple beers. The next morning you wake up and go right back to doing the things you were doing before.
A lot of us have tried that and it doesn’t really work all that well. We try to change everything all at once and end up overwhelmed and stressed out. Our feelings of failure can leave us worse off than we were when we started. That flurry of effort, where we try to make willpower win out over our life long habits, is what I call The Sprint. Sprinting has its place, but when it comes to heart health its more like a walk in the park.
A walk in the park.
When I think of walking in the park I think of putting one foot in front of the other. I think of soaking up the sunshine and looking at the scenery. I think of letting the stress of life slide off my shoulders and feeling calm and in control. The part I want to focus on is putting one foot in front of the other.
Having a strong healthy heart is the result of taking lots of little steps and choices. It is the little things that you do most of the time that give results. The results may be disease or vibrant health, but either way it is what we do repeatedly that gets us there.
Recognize your routines, the things that you do without thinking, the ways you respond to stress and to being busy. You may choose to replace those routines with healthier ones. Do not try to do this all at once. Pick one routine and consistently replace it with a new routine that will lead you one step closer to the life and health that you want.
A recent medical study looking at heart health and lifestyle demonstrated how important lifestyle is for heart health. The researchers defined a healthy lifestyle as being a non-smoker, being active over 150 minutes per week and having a body mass index (BMI) between 18.5-25 (you can calculate your own BMI here). The study involved over 63,000 people. Participants heart health went up significantly when each of those three markers were achieved.
You have heard it before, diet and exercise is the prescription for a healthy heart however it can be confusing to know what to eat. This is a big topic, so I will give you just a few helpful suggestions.
Decrease dietary sugar intake. We all know that sugar is a big contributor to excess body fat, but did you know that carrying around extra body fat is hard on your heart. Your circulatory system tries to pump blood to your fat cells, just like all your other cells. However, fat cells do not have the vascular system to receive the blood, and that creates back pressure. That back pressure can lead to Hypertension, (high blood pressure), and potentially heart attack or stroke. If you are a soda drinker, try replacing part of your soda with water or green tea (unsweetened of course). Carry grapes, sliced apples or oranges slices and when you just have to have something sweet reach for a piece of fruit. Every little thing matters so make a healthier choice as often as you can.
Eat your vegetables. Vegetables are truly amazing and including them in every meal or snack is something worth striving for. Vegetable are nutrient dense, which means that your body gets lots of nutrients and are low in calories. Vegetable are a great hand to mouth snack that doesn’t pack on the weight or leave you feeling like you need a nap in the middle of the afternoon.
Increase dietary fiber. Fiber is vital to keep your digestive system working correctly. The standard North American diet, filled with processed foods, take out and white flour products does not give our bodies the fiber that it needs. Choosing whole grains, oats, brown or wild rice, beans and legumes, and of course whole fruits and vegetables will increase your fiber intake considerably. High fiber foods help you to maintain a healthy weight, lowers LDL cholesterol (the bad form of cholesterol) and helps reduce blood pressure and inflammation. All of this is great for your heart.
Life is stressful and busy. Take time to move your body. Exercise helps us to stay lean, it reduces stress, it improves our mood and our outlook on life. You do not have to be an elite athlete to enjoy the benefits of exercise so take opportunities to move. Make opportunities to move. It is almost spring, turn off the electronic world and go for a walk in the park. Your heart will thank you for it.