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Learn How to Improve Heart Health

Heart health is both a gradual and ongoing process. Our bodies are magnificent machines that can recover and gain strength if we help with good habits. Learn more about how to improve your heart health through these helpful questions and answers:

Why does getting healthy seem impossible?

Don’t focus on what you can’t do, but what you can do – take small steps to make progress toward improved heart health. Just start small with exercise – don’t imagine a marathon, but just a 5 minute walk around the house or around the block. When cooking, don’t buy everything pre-chopped, but take the time to prepare your food yourself. Enjoy the experience of eating healthier and savor the fresh ingredients that taste delicious! Small steps in changing lifestyle habits can lead to big heart health rewards!

How can I exercise if I can’t afford a gym membership?

Being more active is as simple as getting up from the couch. Anyone can add activity and exercise to everyday tasks. Take the stairs and park a little farther away from the entrance when you’re driving somewhere. Also take advantage of those few minutes of time and move: when watching TV, get up during the commercials or at work, take the stairs or the long way around when you’re going to a meeting. Don’t forget that normal activities are exercise, too, like gardening or cleaning the house – these activities get everything moving and also help with strength training.

How does stress hurt your heart?

When stressed, all your blood vessels clench or tighten so blood flow is affected. Over time, your heart muscle is weakened. Your heart pumps all the blood throughout the body so your whole body is affected by stress. When your heart muscle isn’t working efficiently, you will experience symptoms like getting tired and out of breath. If your heart muscle is weak, then your whole body is affected. Reducing stress can improve your blood flow, reduce your blood pressure and increase the efficiency of your heart function.

What makes a heart healthy?

With healthy heart habits like eating healthy, exercising, watching sugar intake and not smoking, your heart pumps more efficiently so blood flow is improved, sending strong oxygenation to all of your organs and throughout your whole body.

How does diabetes affect heart health?

Diseases such as diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol or obesity all affect your heart health. Your body can’t be the perfect system it was intended to be, so your entire body is affected, putting added strain on your heart. But, simple lifestyle changes can help manage or offset these other health issues. Careful monitoring of medications, increasing activity, limiting sugar, eating healthier, stopping smoking and reducing stress can all make a big impact on your heart health.

What is eating whole?

Eating whole means eating from the earth – including food products that are grown naturally and not processed. The goal of healthier eating is to diminish processed foods. At most grocery stores, all of the processed foods are on the inside aisles, so stay on the outside rows or perimeter of the grocery store – where the fruits and vegetables or produce sections are located. Really look at the nutritional labels and look at the ingredients. If you can’t pronounce the words, you don’t need to eat it. Also, use moderation in everything. Just because something is whole and good for you, doesn’t mean that you should eat too much.

What are hidden sugars?

For heart healthy eating, watch for hidden sugars – those ingredients that use a different name that you may not recognize. There are over 50 names for sugar, including sucrose, high-fructose corn syrup, barley malt, dextrose, maltose and rice syrup, just to name a few. Look at both the serving size and the nutritional ingredients that list sugar, including sugar alcohol. Surprising foods that generally include a very high amount of sugar are bar-b-que sauce, yogurt, ketchup, pasta sauce, soups, salad dressings, dried fruit and granola bars. Watch carefully so you aren’t sabotaging your health with too much hidden sugar.

Why can’t I lose weight when I’m eating so many salads?

Salads can be less than nutritious because saturated fat and sugar can hide in both salad ingredients and salad dressing! Be careful about what is in your salads – added dried fruit or sugared nuts can really increase the calorie and sugar counts. Salad dressings can pack on the calories and can also have lots of added sugar. It’s so easy to make your own salad dressing with just a little olive oil, chopped garlic, lemon and pepper. You can also add vinegar, seasonings or even a little Dijon mustard for extra flavor.

Can I still have coffee if I have heart disease?

Caffeine can affect your heart rate, but talk with your doctor about your personal heart issues or conditions – and your personal diet preferences. Having heart disease doesn’t mean that you have to give up everything you love! We recommend practicing moderation. If you feel as though too much caffeine is giving you heart palpitations, then let’s work together to find a solution that works for you – a mix of part decaf may do the trick.

What can help me stay on track with diet and exercise?

There are so many new tools available to help anyone stay on track with diet and exercise. Easy to wear trackers can measure steps and even send encouraging messages to help you meet your goals. There are also online tools to log food so you have a better picture of what you’re eating, but also provide a complete nutritional analysis. Try some out to help you stay motivated - many encourage sharing with friends or support groups for a little friendly competition!

How can I better manage portion control?

For portion control, be mindful of the portion size based on the recipe or nutritional information. Sometimes a portion is much smaller than you think, so check carefully. It’s also easier to visually measure instead of getting out the scale or measuring cup every time you are preparing food. These guidelines will help keep you on track for appropriate portion sizes:

  • Three ounces of protein – cooked chicken for example – is about the size of the palm of your hand
  • A medium piece of fruit is about the size of a baseball
  • One to two ounces of nuts should fit in your cupped hand
  • One ounce of cheese is about the same size as your thumb

Why don’t I feel full sooner?

Your body has a built in mechanism to tell you when you’re full, but it’s our responsibility to eat mindfully and not eat too fast. Look at food as more of an enjoyable experience and not just a necessity. If you take a little extra time to savor your food and chew slowly, you’ll feel full sooner and probably eat less.

How do processed foods affect heart health?

Processed foods fill you up sooner, but you’re also hungry sooner. Your body is a wonderfully efficient machine, but eating foods that your body doesn’t recognize is harder for your body to process. Eating more whole foods is a great path to keep your heart healthy. Try to make healthy choices – eat a whole apple rather than a processed fruit snack.