The benefits of a heart-healthy lifestyle are no secret. However, making all the recommended changes might seem too challenging. Fortunately, any change, even small changes, will reduce your risk for cardiovascular disease, the leading cause of death in the United States. Plus, by focusing on learning a few small habits first, you’ll increase your odds of those habits becoming permanent. Deciding which small changes to make first is up to you. To help you decide, below are three areas where small changes can make a big difference in your heart health.
Choose Foods Carefully
Eating too many processed foods, and foods high in saturated fats and trans fats, has been shown to contribute to heart disease. Salt may increase your risk for heart disease and stroke. The American Health Association (AHA) recommends that you choose these healthy foods instead:
- Fruits and vegetables
- Whole-grain foods and products
- Healthy sources of protein
- Liquid plant oils
- Minimally processed foods
- Foods prepared with little or no salt
The AHA also recommends certain drinks for heart health. Drinking water is best. Staying hydrated by drinking enough water can decrease your risk of heart failure. You should also limit your intake of alcoholic drinks and drinks with added sugars. Lastly, if you do not drink alcohol, do not start.
On average, Americans spend six to eight hours sitting down. Sitting down, especially while watching television, is directly linked to an increased risk of heart disease. Breaking up sitting time by adding short bouts of activity may improve health.
- Aerobic exercise (preferably spread throughout the week): 150 minutes of moderate activity or 75 minutes of vigorous activity, or some combination of both
- Muscle-strengthening exercise (at least twice each week)
It’s best to work up to these activity levels if you are used to doing less. If you’re not used to exercising regularly, it’s best to check with your doctor before you start.
Smoking damages nearly every organ of the body. Besides causing heart disease, smoking causes stroke, cancer, lung diseases and diabetes, as well as increases the risk for some other diseases. Secondhand smoke causes stroke, lung cancer and coronary heart disease in adults.
Quitting smoking starts to improve heart health and reduce heart disease risk immediately. Within a year of quitting smoking, the risk of heart attack goes down. Within five years of quitting smoking, the risk of stroke decreases to about the same level as someone who never smoked.
If you’re a smoker who is interested in quitting, Blue KC can help. Most policies include coverage for prescribed smoking cessation medication. Members who have access to Blue KC’s A Healthier You™ program can find smoking cessation resources in the health library. Smoking cessation counseling may also be covered as preventive care. See your plan for details.
Healthy changes in diet, increasing activity levels and quitting smoking will improve your heart health. You don’t have to do it alone. Speak with your doctor to develop a heart-healthy plan.