By David Blyweiss, M.D.
For many of us, making resolutions is an essential part of our New Year’s celebration. I’ve been known to make one or two myself!
But this year, instead of vowing to finally lose those last 5 pounds or pay off all your bills, why not commit to improving your heart health?
There’s a good reason to do so—in a nationwide study of more than 17,000 adults, only 2 of the participants met all of the criteria for top-notch heart health.1 That’s simply appalling!
Making changes that will cut your risk of heart disease isn’t something you need to do all at once. But gradually adopting these cardio-smart habits can drop your risk of heart disease by 50 percent or more. Here are some of my top picks to get you started:
- Put your goal in writing. If you need a daily reminder, tape it on the mirror or the refrigerator—some place you’ll see every day.
- Exercise at least 30 minutes every day. Regular physical activity keeps the walls of your arteries flexible, which helps dampen rises in blood pressure, reducing your risk of stroke and atherosclerosis.2 Aerobic exercise also helps boost your HDL (good) cholesterol levels. Plus, walking just a half hour every day will help control your weight and improve your overall health.
- Eat better. Instead of beginning this year with yet another fad diet, vow never to diet again. Weight loss can only be achieved when you shift your mind-set from being “on a diet” to being on an eating plan for life. Overall, 90% of the time you should be eating a variety of delicious vegetables, fruits, whole grains and legumes, sprinkled with healthy fats and moderate lean protein sources. The other 10% of what you eat can be left for some of your favorite foods that may not necessarily promote a healthy heart. This approach reduces frustration, leaves you satisfied and results in successful, long-term weight management.
- Take fish oil. Studies show that taking fish oil supplements not only helps prevent cardiovascular diseases in healthy people, but also reduces the incidence of cardiac events and mortality in patients with existing heart disease.3 I recommend taking 3,000 mg of a high quality pure marine fish oil supplement every day.
- If you smoke cigarettes, absolutely, positively stop for good. There is no ‘wonder drug’ that does as much to reduce a smoker’s risk of heart attack as giving up cigarettes. There are a number of ways to quit—from acupuncture to pharmaceutical drugs. Find what works for you, even if it takes several tries with different methods.
- Know your numbers. Get lab work done to measure your cholesterol, triglycerides, c-reactive protein (a marker of inflammation) and homocysteine levels. Also find out what your blood pressure and fasting blood sugar is. Here are the basic numbers you need to know:
|Total Cholesterol||< 200 mg/dL of blood|
|LDL Cholesterol||< 100 mg/dL of blood|
|HDL Cholesterol||> 40 mg/dL of blood|
|Triglycerides||< 150 mg/dL|
|C-Reactive Protein||1.0 mg/dL or less|
|Homocysteine||up to 15 micro mol/L|
|Blood Pressure||< 120/80|
|Fasting Blood Sugar||< 100 mg/dL of blood|
Keep an ongoing record of all your numbers so you can easily track your progress and take the appropriate steps if needed.
Remember, unlike most resolutions, making these heart-healthy changes isn’t a temporary fix for a temporary problem. These are real lifestyle changes that can bring real long-term benefits. In the end, the more changes you can make, and stick to, the longer you’ll live and the healthier you’ll be.
- Roan S. Simple steps can cut deadly risk of heart disease, study finds. L.A. Times. November 15, 2010.
- Fleenor BS. Arterial stiffening with ageing is associated with transforming growth factor-β1-related changes in adventitial collagen: reversal by aerobic exercise. Journal of Physiology. 2010;588:3971-3982.
- Lavie CL. Omega-3 Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids and Cardiovascular Diseases. Journal of the American College of Cardiology. 2009;54:585-594.