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Your Guide To A Healthier Life And Heart

Updated: Apr 12

You may not be aware, but your heart beats around 100,000 times a day and pumps 7500 litres of blood throughout your body each day.

It really is the engine of your body. The question is, are you taking care of yourself to keep it healthy?

Jeffrey L. Anderson, MD, a cardiologist and heart researcher at Intermountain Healthcare Heart Institute, says a healthy diet and lifestyle are your best weapons against cardiovascular disease.

Dr. Anderson says,

It's not as hard as you think. But you have to be intentional so you're taking steps in your life to keep your heart healthy.”

To help you along the way, Dr. Anderson provides "Life's Simple 7" steps. Besides defining ideal model cardiovascular health, he also identified seven risk factors that people can improve by changing their lifestyle. These are:

  1. Cholesterol

  2. Blood Pressure

  3. Diet

  4. Blood Sugar/Glucose

  5. Weight

  6. Physical Activity

  7. Smoking Status

1. Keeping Your Cholesterol Under Control

Plaque build-up contributes to heart disease and stroke, which can be caused by high cholesterol. Dr. Anderson noted that by controlling cholesterol, your arteries have a higher chance of remaining clear of blockages.

Cholesterol is a waxy substance. There is nothing inherently bad about it. In fact, your body needs it to build cells. Too much cholesterol, however, may be harmful.

There are two kinds of cholesterol. The liver makes all the cholesterol your body needs. Your body gets the remainder of its cholesterol from animal-derived foods. The cholesterol found in meat, poultry, and full-fat dairy products is called dietary cholesterol.

HDL = BENEFICIAL: High-density lipoprotein is known as "good" cholesterol.

LDL = LESS DESIRABLE: Low-density lipoprotein is known as “bad” cholesterol.

In turn, HDL reduces plaque build-up by keeping LDL from adhering to artery walls. The result is a reduction in the risk of stroke and heart disease.

2. Keeping Your Blood Pressure Under Control

Heart disease and stroke are major risks associated with high blood pressure. A high blood pressure condition (also called hypertension) occurs when the force of the blood flowing through the blood vessels is regularly too high. Your heart, arteries, and kidneys will be less stressed if you keep your blood pressure within healthy ranges. The standard blood pressure is 120/80 mmHg.

3. Improving Your Diet

You can fight heart disease with a healthy diet. You have a better chance of feeling good and staying healthy if you eat a heart-healthy diet.

To build an overall healthy eating style, Dr. Anderson recommends making smart choices and swaps. Limit portions and watch calories.

  • ENJOY: Fresh fruit, vegetables, whole grains, beans, lentils, nuts, plant-based proteins, lean meats, skinless poultry, fish

  • LIMIT: Sugared drinks, salt, processed meats, refined carbohydrates such as added sugars and processed grains, full-fat dairy products, eggs, highly processed foods, tropical oils such as coconut oil, palm oil, and palm kernel oil.

  • AVOID: Trans fats and partially hydrogenated oils (found in some commercially baked goods and fried foods)

  • You can make healthier - and more informed - choices by learning to read and understand food labels. Compare nutrition information when you have several choices. Opt for products that are low in sodium, saturated fat, and sugar.

  • Exercise regularly to minimize your calorie intake. Understand serving sizes and keep portions reasonable

  • Normalize home-cooked meals: Learn how to prepare healthy foods and try heart-healthy recipes by cooking at home.

4. Reducing Blood Sugar Levels

Almost all the food we eat is converted into glucose (or blood sugar) that our bodies use as fuel. A high level of blood sugar can cause long-term damage to your heart, kidneys, eyes, and nerves.

People with diabetes have high blood sugar levels. Fasting blood glucose (sugar) levels over 126 milligrams per decilitre (mg/dL) are dangerous. It is recommended that fasting blood glucose levels be below 100 mg/dL. Knowing what causes your blood sugar levels to rise is the first step toward managing them.

When you eat and drink carbohydrates and sugars, your stomach and digestive system convert them to glucose (sugar). This glucose enters the bloodstream. Insulin is a hormone produced in the pancreas and helps the body's cells absorb glucose from the blood.

A type 2 diabetic builds up glucose in the blood instead of letting it enter the cells. This happens because: The body develops "insulin resistance" and can't make and use insulin effectively. Insulin is gradually depleted from the pancreas. This can result in high blood sugar levels.

5. Managing Your Weight

Maintaining a healthy weight reduces the burden on your heart, lungs, blood vessels, and skeleton. You help yourself feel better, lower your blood pressure and give yourself the gift of active living."

How to manage your weight:

  • Keep track of the calories you eat and the amount of exercise you get. Losing weight requires burning more calories than you eat.

  • You can reduce calories in by keeping track of what and how much you eat. This helps you determine whether you are eating because of habit, stress, or boredom instead of hunger.

  • To increase your physical activity, get an activity tracker.

  • Using your Body Mass Index (BMI) can help you determine whether or not you are at a healthy weight. A BMI less than 25k/m2 is ideal.

How to succeed:

  • Understand portion sizes and how much you might be eating.

  • Sit less, move more, and improve your overall health by being more active.

  • Consume whole grains, beans, legumes, nuts, vegetables, fruits, and lean meats and fish. Limit high-fat dairy products, eggs, highly processed foods, palm and coconut oils, and sodium when cooking, snacking, and eating out.

  • Speak with your doctor if you are not able to lose weight on your own.

6. Keeping Active

You can give yourself and those you love the most rewarding gift by living an active life. According to Dr. Anderson, daily physical activity increases your life span and quality of life.

It is recommended that adults get a weekly total of 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity, or a combination of both, spread throughout the week. It is recommended that children and teens get at least 60 minutes of physical activity every day.

Become more active by following these tips:

  • At least twice a week, engage in muscle-strengthening activities (like resistance training).

  • Increase distance, time, amount, or effort for more benefits.

  • Get up and move throughout the day instead of sitting.

7. Put An End To Smoking

Smokers have a higher risk of developing cardiovascular disease. Quitting smoking is the best thing you can do for your health. Understanding the effects of smoking, vaping and using tobacco for yourself and your family is the first step to quitting:

  • Smoking is the most preventable cause of death. A third of all deaths from heart disease and 90% of lung cancer are linked to it.

  • As well as their smoke, vapour and liquids, cigarettes, e-cigarettes and tobacco products contain many toxic chemicals.

  • Children ages 3-11 are exposed to second-hand smoke and vapour about half the time.

  • Smoking and nicotine addiction are growing crises among teens and young adults. Millions of people successfully quit every year.

  • Within one year of quitting, your heart disease risk is cut in half.

According to Dr. Anderson, all seven of these measures have one thing in common. The steps aren't expensive to take, and even modest improvements in your health can make a big difference, according to him. Start small, he says. To help you live a long, productive, and healthy life, this simple list of seven steps has been developed.

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