Practical heart attack & stroke prevention New Year's Resolutions
With the New Year approaching you're probably starting to think about resolutions for your heart health. But, making changes to your diet and exercise is often hard. Very hard! In fact, if you read most articles about this topic you’ll come away thinking you need to go an extreme diet, exercise for an hour or more a day, and give up everything you currently enjoy. That’s not going to be this article. Instead, I am looking at heart attack and stroke prevention advice from a practical standpoint. I want to share with you small changes that motivate you, not scare you, and can be added to your daily routine.
Not only do the tips below include small daily changes, but you can even start by just picking one of them to make over the first few weeks. You probably inherited many of your risks for a stroke or heart attack or built them up over many years, so don’t feel the need to rush to make extreme changes quickly.
Ready? Here we go…
Monitor your numbers
We check email and social media many times a day, so checking our health numbers once a day shouldn’t be a burden. In fact, it’s can be quite important. If you only checked one number, let it be your blood pressure. Next, check your pulse–either by using your fingers or with a cheap finger pulse monitor. Lastly, check your scales. I know, I know, it can seem intimidating to check your weight each day, but the opposite is actually true. If you check it once a week, you may see the number go up, maybe because you drank more water the day before. By checking daily, you can see just how much your weight can change from day to day, and then be encouraged when you see that overall it is going down.
(If you have diabetes, please also make sure you check this as recommended by your doctor).
Replace food gradually
When I first changed my diet, I did it slowly. In fact, initially, I made one change–I stopped having fast food for lunch. It made a huge difference, and eventually, I added more dietary changes. If you’re looking to prevent a stroke or heart attack, make small changes to your diet. Remove one can of sugary soda each day. Two sugars in your coffee? Reduce to just one. Do you like your sandwich fried? Get it grilled. Have a piece of salmon with your meal instead of steak. Take small, achievable steps first. Once you’ve successfully gone a couple of weeks change something else about your diet.
Add 20 minutes of any exercise
As a certified personal trainer that specializes in heart attack and stroke prevention, I hesitate about what to tell you next. A good personal trainer would sit down with you and learn about your goals, your fears, and your health history, before designing a workout routine for you. However, science has my back and I am not a professional bodybuilder that believes in massive amounts of protein for gains bro! (Not that they’re wrong). So what’s a good exercise for your heart health? Anything that keeps you in a comfortable RPE range and you enjoy! Walk the dog. Mow the yard. Pickleball. Swimming. And, of course, it can be running, tennis, or lifting weights. Just try to do something for 20 minutes a day and then slowly increase it to 30 or 40 minutes each day.
Reduce alcohol & tobacco consumption
If you smoke or drink daily, this step may be your toughest to achieve, but may also be the most important one to improve your cardiovascular health. Giving up smoking and alcohol is tough and you’ll probably need help from someone that specializes in doing so. That said, I’m all about small, practicable, improvements. With that in mind, how about reducing from 20 cigarettes a day to 18? Six beers a night to 5? Any amount of reduction will reduce your risks for a stroke or heart attack. And, yes, some studies even show that a glass of red wine each day may, in fact, improve your heart health! As for smoking, keep reducing until you can quit completely.
Relax your body & mind
Too much stress can raise your risk for a heart attack or stroke, so let’s find a way to counter the many stress factors we face in life. Praying. Meditating. Qigong. Petting a dog. All of these can help you to lower your heart rate and blood pressure. Here’s something you can do anywhere for any amount of time to reduce stress. Focus on your breathing. Breath in, through your nose, slowly for a count of 4. Hold that breath for a count of 4. Then breath out through your mouth for another count of 4. Then wait 4 more seconds before starting over. If Navy Seals can use a similar method to calm themselves in combat, then you know this simple breathing technique can help lower your stress and thereby reduce your risk for a stroke or cardiac arrest.
Find some extra ZZZs
The technique described above is also a great one to help you fall asleep each night. Which is important for preventing a stroke or heart attack. Of course, I can tell you that a minimum of 7 hours per night is the recommendation. However, that may not always be achievable. What if you work two jobs? What if you have a newborn? It’s gonna be tough to get 7 hours. So, instead, let’s try whatever is reasonable. Try to get to bed just one hour earlier each night. Take a 20-minute power nap during the day. Even if you just managed to get some extra sleep at the weekend, that would reduce your risk of a heart attack or stroke.
As you will see recommended along with any good advice on the internet, always speak to your doctor before making any changes. Hopefully, they will agree with what is written above. And, if you’re still hesitant about whether you even need to speak to a doctor, perhaps this simple form will help.
Good luck with your New Year's resolutions!