The coronavirus has taken a toll on public health and forced us to reimagine ways to live, work and play with limited access to resources. As a result, many individuals and families have experienced an increase in stress, poorer diets, excessive alcohol or caffeine use, and physical inactivity. Eventually habits like these, if not well-managed, can cause long-term effects including an increased risk for developing heart disease.
Heart disease is an umbrella term for various types of heart conditions like coronary artery disease (CAD) and heart failure and is the leading cause of death in the United States. While risk factors like genetics and age cannot be changed, there are other opportunities to prevent heart disease by making a few consistent lifestyle changes to achieve optimal heart health.
Here are six strategies to address matters of the heart:
Get SMART. Committing to making a lifestyle change is a significant undertaking that often requires intention and focus. Rather than working to decrease stress, change your diet, limit caffeine, and start exercising all in one fell swoop, it is important to start with just one or two small habits. To achieve this, health experts recommend setting SMART goals to position yourself for success. For example, simply saying you will drink more water every day is not as effective as committing to drinking 8 more ounces than your normal intake on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. Milestones like these are easier to remember and achieve.
Eat “hearty” foods. In this case we are not referring to large portions, but your meals can still be satisfying. Incorporating heart-healthy foods like leafy greens, whole grains, fatty fish, beans, and berries can regulate blood pressure and cholesterol levels. Meal planning is a great way to jumpstart a healthy eating lifestyle. Grab a piece of paper or use the notes app on your smartphone to create a quick grocery shopping list.
Free your mind. There is an uptick in social isolation and loneliness because of the pandemic and it has undeniably caused additional strain on mental health—especially in older adults and those who live alone. According to CDC, poor social relationships due to social isolation or loneliness was associated with a 29% increased risk of heart disease. Loneliness was also associated with higher rates of depression, anxiety, and suicide. Adapting mindfulness practices like meditation can help ease the mind and heart. Additionally, identifying creative ways to stay connected to family and friends can be beneficial.
Move your body. Regular physical activity is a critical component to maintaining heart health. Walking, running, biking, dancing, or playing a sport are all great methods to work up a sweat. For those who currently lack the motivation to get off the couch, a great starting point could be to complete light calisthenics workouts right on your living room floor. Using your own bodyweight can be very effective in improving strength, flexibility, and coordination.
See your doctor. Schedule a telehealth appointment with your doctor to discuss your current condition and confirm that all your blood pressure measurements and lab tests are up to date. Remember to consult your doctor prior to starting a new diet or exercise program. Your doctor can also provide referrals to classes, specialists and therapists as needed. Take advantage of your health benefits!
As we come to the final days of American Heart Month, we encourage our dedicated USFHP members to take action to improve and sustain your heart health beyond the month of February. Visit usfhp.net or contact us at 1-800-241-4848 to review your plan benefits or locate a provider. We are here to support you!
Ready to get going now? Download the BlueStar app by Welldoc, Inc.—an FDA-cleared digital assistant designed to help achieve your health and wellness goals. The app features a symptom tracker, coaching and other resources to encourage healthy lifestyle choices. Visit the App Store or Google Play Store using the links below and enter access code: DM4U to complete registration.