“Listen to your heart.” It’s a phrase we hear a lot. It might be your favorite line from a classic romantic comedy or sound advice delivered to you by a cherished loved one. Regardless of where you first encountered the phrase, the idea that our hearts are central to who we are as people has existed throughout history. Perhaps that’s because the heart is quite literally the engine that drives us as human beings.
As World Heart Day is celebrated around the world this September, it’s a great time to “listen to your heart” and take stock of your health. Understanding what your body is telling you is key and by making a few simple changes, you can lower your risk for heart disease and get on the path towards a healthier lifestyle. Join us, as we get to the heart of the matter, by taking a look at what makes us tick!
What is World Heart Day?
So, what is World Heart Day, anyway? World Heart Day is an annual global event, created by the World Heart Federation, in order to promote awareness and help combat cardiovascular disease (CVD). CVD continues to have a devastating impact on the world’s population, killing 17.5 million people every year; making it the number one killer among non-communicable (or chronic) diseases. The goal is to dramatically reduce the number of preventable CVD deaths brought on by factors such as poor diet, lack of physical activity and tobacco use. From social media campaigns to localized events, World Heart Day is a great chance to “share the power” by showing the world how you power your heart. But, beyond the global conversation, World Heart Day is about making small changes to ensure a healthy future for you and the people you care about. With that in mind, let’s talk about some of the ways you can take care of your heart.
Heart Health Numbers: Know Where to Start
In many ways, heart health comes down to a numbers game. Risk awareness is the first step in prevention and, as they say, “knowing is half the battle”. The World Heart Federation recommends that you keep track of your blood glucose levels, blood pressure, cholesterol levels, weight and Body Mass Index (BMI). These health numbers are significant indicators of cardiovascular risk and working towards improving them can only increase your heart health. A simple trip to your physician can reveal this critical information, but some of these tests can be done at home and the American Heart Association’s website has some great information on this topic.
Eating Well: The Perfect Recipe for a Healthy Heart
Eating well and making sound nutritional choices is another important factor in sustained heart health. The World Heart Federation offers the following tips to “fuel your heart”:
- Try not to eat so many processed and pre-packaged foods which are often high in sugar and fat
- Cut down on sugary beverages and fruit juices – choose water or unsweetened juices instead
- Swap sweet, sugary treats for fresh fruit as a healthy alternative
- Try to eat 5 portions (about a handful) of fruit and vegetables a day – they can be fresh, frozen, tinned or dried
- Keep the amount of alcohol you drink within recommended guidelines
- Make your own healthy school or work lunches at home
These changes may seem like common sense, but they can make all the difference. Your diet is one factor you can control in preventing heart disease, and making healthier choices can also lower your risk for diabetes, cardiovascular disease and other conditions related to obesity and high cholesterol. For more tips on healthy eating, check out this video from UEFA, as some of the greatest soccer players in the world discuss the impact diet has on their performance.
Get Moving: Take Action with Heart Healthy Exercises
While eating well is an important step in promoting heart health, consistent physical activity is just as critical. Inactivity can be a significant factor in cardiovascular disease, so it’s important to stimulate your heartrate through exercise. The World Heart Federation recommends the following:
- Aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity activity five times a week
- Playing, walking, housework, dancing – they all count!
- Be more active every day – take the stairs, walk or cycle instead of driving
- Exercise with friends and family – you’ll be more motivated and it’s more fun!
- Before you start any exercise plan, check with a healthcare professional
- Download an exercise app or use a pedometer to keep track of your progress
Additionally, yoga is a great alternative form of exercise that can lower stress and CVD risk through poses that lead to physical stimulation and measured breathing techniques. You can learn more about the benefits of yoga here.
Say Goodbye to Tobacco
We’ve touched on some important factors that can help you improve your heart health and lower your risk of CVD; but so far, we haven’t mentioned what is perhaps the most important step in reversing heart disease. According to The World Heart Federation, “Stopping smoking is the single best thing you can do to improve your heart health.” Smoking makes it harder to exercise, raises your blood pressure and can harm others through the negative effects of second-hand smoke. This World Heart Day consider the facts below and breakup with tobacco for good:
- Within 2 years of quitting, the risk of coronary heart disease is substantially reduced
- Within 15 years the risk of CVD returns to that of a non-smoker
- Exposure to second-hand smoke is also a cause of heart disease in non-smokers
- So, by quitting you’ll not only improve your health but that of those around you
- If you’re having trouble stopping smoking, ask for professional advice on how to quit
- You can also ask your employer if they provide smoking-cessation services
Where to Start
So, what to do next? Scheduling an exam with your primary care physician is a great first step. Depending on your age, family history and other risk factors, you may also be referred to a cardiologist. Keep track of your numbers and set goals for better heart health. Cut down on processed foods and swap out sugary snacks and fatty meals in favor of more nutritious alternatives. Make sure to exercise regularly and keep yourself moving, even if that just means taking a more active approach to your daily life. If you’re already struggling with the effects of a heart attack or stroke, activity should be measured; and you may want to consider making changes to your home to make your life safer going forward, such as a stairlift or other mobility aids. Most of all, if you’re still smoking, seek out ways to quit today. It’s really the best thing you can do to lower your risk level. These changes may seem simple, but the effects of cardiovascular disease can be devastating and a little bit of work and regular maintenance can go a long way towards preventing heart disease. This World Heart Day, listen to your heart and get on the path toward a healthier life!