Just like mama taught us, you can learn how to give your heart a spring cleaning.
Although women develop heart disease at an older age, when younger premenopausal women get heart disease, the outcome is poor.
But, It’s never too early or too late to find out what shape your heart’s in and to make the changes that could prevent heart disease.
Follow these 10 suggestions for how to give your heart a Spring cleaning:
Take a ‘Before’ Picture of Your Heart Health
Here are the important ones to know:
Rate And Rhythm
The best places to find your pulse are the:
- inside of your elbow
- the side of your neck
- top of the foot
Your resting heart rate is the heart pumping the lowest amount of blood you need because you’re not exercising.
- If you’re sitting or lying and you’re calm, relaxed and aren’t ill, your heart rate is normally between 60 (beats per minute) and 100 (beats per minute).
Clues that you have a healthy heart are:
➡ A steady heart rhythm and a resting heart rate between 60 and 100 beats per minute — or, if you’re an athlete, as low as 40 bpm.
➡ If your heart rate is too fast, speeds up or slows down, or skips beats, check with your doctor to rule out a heart rhythm disorder (like atrial fibrillation).
- Normal: Less than 120/80
- Elevated: Systolic between 120-129 and diastolic less than 80;
- Stage 1: Systolic between 130-139 or diastolic between 80-89;
- Stage 2: Systolic at least 140 or diastolic at least 90
- Hypertensive crisis: Systolic over 180 and/or diastolic over 120, with patients needing prompt changes in medication if there are no other indications of problems, or immediate hospitalization if there are signs of organ damage.
Check yours with a home blood pressure monitor or at a neighborhood drugstore, or ask your doctor to measure it.
High blood pressure (hypertension) puts a strain on your arteries and a burden on your heart that can have deadly consequences. Click here to learn about this silent, lethal weapon.
Ask your doctor for a routine cholesterol test.
- If your total cholesterol is higher than 200 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL), it’s probably due to fat and plaque (made up of cholesterol, cellular waste, calcium, and fibrin) building up in your blood vessels.
High cholesterol can lead to atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries) and puts you at risk for stroke, heart attack, or heart failure.
Inflammation is a significant cause of heart disease. It can be measured with a blood test for C-reactive protein (CRP).
- When CRP is less than 1 milligram per liter (mg/L), inflammation levels are very low, and the risk of heart disease or a heart attack is extremely low.
2. Calculate Your 10-Year Risk of Heart Attack:
Once you know your numbers, you can tap into one of the online calculators that estimate heart disease risk.
Whether or not the doctor calculates it in the office, it can be a jumping off point for a discussion about risks.
➡ By using the Reynolds Risk Score, you can predict your 10-year risk of heart attack, stroke, or other major cardiovascular diseases.
➡ The AHA’s Heart Attack Risk Calculator (American Heart Association) also adds questions about your weight and waist size.
- In addition, it shows how your heart attack risk can go down if you change certain risk factors (like stopping smoking, for example).
➡ TheMayo Clinic’s Heart Disease Risk Calculator also asks questions about your medical history, your diet, and level of physical activity. Following your risk score are recommendations on ways to reduce your risk.
➡ Smoking or breathing in secondhand smoke can hurt your heart.
➡ Toxins in smoke damage the linings of your blood vessel, interferes with your blood flow, cause inflammation, and can lead to a heart attack.
➡ Things like certain particles found in air pollution can also raise your risk of heart diseases such as:
- Heart failure
- Atrial fibrillation
- Heart attacks and strokes.
By limiting your exposure, you allow your blood vessels and heart to heal.
When we study the incidence of heart disease, 80-90% of the time it’s due to lifestyle choices.
➡ These poor choices age us internally and put us at risk for heart disease.
➡ A poor diet, excess alcohol, smoking, stress, and a lack of sleep, promote:
- stress hormones
- high blood pressure
All of these lead to aging of the arteries.
4. Get Moving
People who are physically active tend to live longer, partly because their
activity limits the buildup of plaque, cholesterol and damaged cells in your arteries.
➡ Getting regular exercise can not only control unhealthy cholesterol levels and lower high blood pressure, it can also help with inflammation.
If you have signs of heart disease already, your doctor may order heart tests or a blood test to rule out Coronary Artery Disease (CAD) — the leading cause of death in men and women, according to the American College of Cardiology.
➡ First of all, talk with your physician about the overall state of your heart health to be sure it’s okay to exercise.
➡ Once you get the okay from your doctor, aim for 30 minutes of exercise each day unless you’re advised to do less.
Although your instinct may be to avoid exercise to protect an ailing heart, the truth is that even people with heart disease need to stay active.
If the heart is not conditioned, over time, it requires more effort to deliver blood and oxygen to the body.
We see this when our heart rates increase even when we’re at rest. Our ability to exercise requires us to have a higher heart rate, quicker.
5. Cut Back on Added Sugar
We need to eat the right foods to minimize inflammation. In particular, sugar and foods that behave like sugar in the body — like refined grains, processed foods, and white rice — significantly increase the inflammatory process inside the body.
Although the evidence that sugar is a risk factor for heart disease has been downplayed, a recent study published by the Journal Of the American Medical Association (JAMA) notes that too much of these simple carbs can be a problem for your heart.
Cutting back on added sugar is a good move, because too much sugar raises triglycerides, lowers HDL cholesterol, raises blood pressure, and can cause diabetes
➡ Fruit, vegetables, nuts, seeds, legumes, and fish have all been shown to reduce inflammation, and less inflammation means a healthier heart.
6. Eat the Right Fats for Healthy Cholesterol Levels
Consider cutting back on the types of fat that can raise your blood cholesterol levels:
- Trans fats like partially hydrogenated vegetable oils
- Cholesterol from fatty meats and high-fat dairy items
- Saturated fats like coconut oil, cocoa butter, and palm oil
Instead, choose healthy, unsaturated fats from plant sources like:
Olive, corn, canola, avocado, sesame, and peanut oils.
It may surprise you that although avocado is high in fat, it’s considered a healthy type of fat, and start eating an avocado a day may help if you have high cholesterol by lowering LDL (“bad”) cholesterol levels.
7. Focus on Weight Loss if You’re Overweight
Getting your weight down will help your heart if you’re overweight or obese.
Obesity means carrying enough body fat to put you at risk for a variety of ailments including:
- Cardiovascular Disease
- Pulmonary disease
- Reproductive disorders
Obesity can affect the functioning of all major body organ systems.
➡ For adults, one measure of a healthy weight is your body mass index (BMI). You can find out what yours is by using a free online BMI calculator, like this one from the Mayo Clinic.
➡ Extra fat raises your risks for high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and heart disease, and the extra weight puts a burden on your heart.
8. Get Enough (but Not Too Much) Sleep
During sleep, your blood pressure drops and your heart rate slows naturally, giving your heart a rest.
Sleep research published in the Journal of the Amerian Heart Association found that routinely getting about seven hours of sleep per night is linked to the lowest heart disease risk.about how sleep affects you here.
Tips that can help you get enough sleep are to exercise early in the day, keep your evening meal light, and avoid too much caffeine and alcohol (which can interfere with restful sleep).
9.Raise a Toast to Moderate Drinking
However, too much alcohol can be toxic to your heart— especially binge drinking, which is defined as having four to five drinks within two hours — and can trigger atrial fibrillation or cause heart failure.
➡ If you are taking any kind of medication, be sure to ask your doctor or pharmacist if it could interact with alcohol and cause unwanted side effects.
If you do drink, aim for no more than one drink a day if you’re a woman, and two or fewer if you’re a man, to keep it to a moderate level, according to the recommendations by the Centers For Disease Control (CDC).
And here’s an extra recommendation, which for some may be life-saving in more ways than one:
10. Relax and Buffer Your Stress
Women going through stressful life events or general emotional stress are more susceptible to heart disease.
Under stress, women are 12 times more likely to develop heart disease and 14 times more likely to have a stroke, according to a large clinical study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association.
Find ways to cope with stress (but not by drinking) with activities like meditation and yoga, which can protect your heart health.
Learn about them here:
And, finally: Take an ‘After’ Picture of Your Heart Health
While you can’t take a true ‘after’ picture until you’ve gone through some of the makeover steps I suggest, you can enter your target values into one of the online heart disease risk calculators I’ve listed above.
For example, fill out a heart disease risk assessment tool and include your risk factor, such as smoking, then do it a second time as a non-smoker.
➡ Stopping smoking effectively cuts a healthy middle-aged woman’s 10-year heart attack risk in half.
➡ Three months after making changes to your daily habits, check your progress by measuring your heart rate and rhythm and checking your blood pressure.
The only way to truly grow old gracefully, or to make over your body from the inside, is to take care of your heart.
How you eat, how you exercise, not smoking, managing stress, and getting enough sleep are key players in the process.