Did you know that heart disease is the #1 cause of death in the United States? Almost a third of the population has some form of cardiovascular disease, costing the U.S. Healthcare System a staggering $273 billion every year. There are some risk factors for heart disease you can’t change, such as your family history or your age, but there are quite a few that you DO have control over, including the foods you eat and how much physical activity you get. Combining a heart healthy eating plan with mild to moderate exercise is a great way to feel more energetic while protecting your heart.
Therapeutic Lifestyle Changes:
For those already diagnosed with heart disease or those with a high risk of developing heart disease, doctors and registered dietitian nutritionists recommend the Therapeutic Lifestyle Changes (TLC) plan to help lower their risk. The basic recommendations that come along with the TLC are easy to implement and are a good place to start for anyone trying to decrease their risk of heart disease. The TLC plan has two main components which, when combined, provide the highest protective qualities.
o At least half of your daily intake should come from whole grains and cereals. Look for breads with whole wheat flour as the first ingredient. There has been a recent popularity in “ancient grains”, such as einkorn, spelt, or farro, which can be found in specialty food stores and can serve as the base for pilafs and grain salads. Increased intake in whole grains such as oatmeal and barley increase your intake of soluble fiber, which research has shown can reduce blood cholesterol levels.
o Aim for 3 – 5 servings of vegetables and 2 – 4 servings of fruit every day. Vegetables and fruits contain compounds which offer a variety of health protecting qualities, along with insoluble and soluble fiber to make you feel fuller longer while protecting your heart.
o Choose proteins which are naturally low in saturated fat. Lean cuts of meat, such as tenderloin, have little saturated fat. Legumes, such as lentil and chick peas, are fiber and nutrient-rich meatless choices with no saturated fat. Oily fish, such as salmon and tuna, have additional cardioprotective qualities in providing anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids.
o Exercise doesn’t have to be exhaustive to be good for you. Find a physical activity you enjoy and try to get involved for 30 minutes a day, 3 – 4 days a week. Start small if you can’t fit it all in at once; two 15 minutes sessions in a day is just as good as one 30 minute session.
o Spend less time in (and on) your seat. Being sedentary for most hours of the day is a risk factor for cardiovascular disease. Set a timer to get up every 30 or 60 minutes and take a lap around the building or even your living room. Every little bit helps.
o Make physical activity part of your daily routine. One small step leads to more and more, eventually taking you wherever you want to go. Park your car at the far end of the parking lot, take the stairs instead of the elevator even just for a floor or two, or get outside and pull weeds or rake leaves.
Just a few minor changes can have a huge impact on the health of your heart. Pick one or two new things a week to try, such as a recipe with a new vegetable or grain and taking a lunch lap around the parking lot at work. Small changes have a big impact over time, so start giving your heart a little TLC.