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Happy Heart Health Month!

Five tips to keep your heart healthy



Heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women (NIH.gov). Fortunately, there is a lot we can do to reduce our risk of heart disease. The National Institute for Health recommends living a "Heart-healthy" life to reduce your risk of developing heart disease and to improve your overall health and wellness. Heart-healthy living involves:


  1. Understanding your risk

  2. Getting your blood pressure and cholesterol checked

  3. Choosing heart-healthy foods

  4. Maintaining a healthy weight

  5. Getting physical exercise

  6. Managing stress

  7. Quitting smoking

  8. Getting good sleep


As you can see, most of the steps involved in heart-healthy living are activities that we can easily work on either on our own or with a friend. The National Institute of Health gives more details on each of these action steps. I HIGHLY recommend you visit their website and click through all of these steps.


The role of occupational therapy in heart health is to help people develop healthy habits around heart-healthy living that can be easily integrated into our existing routines. It can be hard to develop new habits. An occupational therapist can help you look at your current daily routine and help you find simple ways to add heart-healthy habits. Often, as we age there can be barriers to heart-healthy activities such as exercise and cooking. An occupational therapist can help you explore ways to make these healthy habits fit your current abilities.


Read below for some tips on heart-healthy living strategies.



Tip #1 - Understand your risk and know your numbers


There are two different types of risk factors (modifiable and non-modifiable). Modifiable risk factors are things that you have the power to change such as: lack of physical exercise, smoking, being overweight, or eating a poor diet. Non-modifiable risk factors such as age, gender, and family history can't be changed. Here is a list of risk factors from the NIH:


  • High blood pressure

  • High blood cholesterol

  • Being overweight or obese

  • Having prediabetes or diabetes

  • Smoking

  • Not getting regular physical activity

  • Having a family history of early heart disease. For example, if your father or brother was diagnosed before age 55, or your mother or sister was diagnosed before age 65

  • Having a history of preeclampsia, which is a sudden rise in blood pressure and too much protein in the urine during pregnancy

  • Unhealthy eating behaviors

  • Are age 55 or older for women or age 45 or older for men

*The more risk factors you have - the higher your risk factor is.


 It can be helpful to take inventory of your risk factors and think about what factors you can change. After going through this list, it can be helpful to make notes of your concerns and take it to your next doctor's appointment. Knowledge is power. Talk to your doctor about your concerns and make sure you know your numbers (blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugar)



AHM-2023-HeartSmartFactSheet_2
.pdf
Download PDF • 377KB



Tip #2 - Choose heart-healthy foods

With some many diets and food fads, it can be hard to know what to eat for your health. It is always best to talk to your doctor about what type of dietary plan is best for you, but here are some general guidelines.

  1. Eat plenty of vegetables and fruit

  2. Eat whole grains

  3. Eat protein-rich foods

  4. Avoid added salt and sugar

  5. Avoid overly processed foods

  6. Avoid saturated fats


Tip #3 - Get physical


Physical exercise can be hard to do as we age. Aches and pain, caring for loved ones, and other factors can make it hard to get enough physical exercise. According to the NIH physical activity can :

  • Help you lose excess weight

  • Improve physical fitness

  • Lower many heart disease risk factors such as “bad” LDL cholesterol  levels, increase “good” HDL cholesterol levels, and manage high blood pressure

  • Lower stress and improve your mental health

  • Lower your risk for other conditions such as type 2 diabetes, depression, and cancer

The trick is finding a way to add physical activity to your schedule. Any increase in activity can be helpful. Start with small activity goals and work your way up. Check out this move more fact sheet for more information.


HM-2022-MoveMoreFactSheet_508 (3)
.pdf
Download PDF • 560KB


Tip #4 - Manage stress


Stress can negatively impact our physical and mental health. Stress has been found to contribute to high blood pressure, weight gain, and other heart disease risk factors. Aging can be stressful, especially if you are managing health concerns or caring for a loved one. There are several supports out there to help you that you might not even know about. If you are feeling stress, anxiety, or caregiver burden please reach out to your primary care physician who can refer you to several supports that might be able to help you.

Stress is not something that you should just "deal" with and can have a serious impact on your health. You might consider some supports such as:

  1. Hiring a cleaning lady

  2. Setting up a family schedule to help you with difficult tasks

  3. Order your groceries online or order healthy premade meals

  4. Consider enlisting the help of a caregiver

  5. Check out your local area on aging for support

  6. Join a church or support group



Tip #5 - Get good sleep


You might find that your sleeping patterns and needs have changed as you have aged. Here is a chart that outlines how much sleep you should try to get for your age. However, these are general guidelines, and your specific needs might be different.



In Closing


Making too many lifestyle changes at once can be overwhelming, so start slow and steady and reach out for support when needed. Taking better care of ourselves will not only positively impact our lives, but also our relationships and our quality of life.


-Jenny Williams, OTD

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