With as many uncontrollable things that life throws at us, you would think we would be jumping for joy over one of the best things we can control, right?
Well, despite the fact that we can control the majority of our overall health, there are many lifestyle factors that become bad habits, thus keeping us from being our healthiest selves.
Here are some lifestyle factors you can take the reigns on that will not only benefit your heart in the long run, but will also make you feel great right now:
1.) Adopting lunch-time activity
One of the biggest contributors to our country’s rate of heart disease and other health issues is our sedentary lifestyles.
Being sedentary is built in to our culture, and many times we can’t avoid sitting for hours on end because many jobs take place behind a computer.
In an effort to add more movement to your day, one of the best opportunities to get more activity is taking control of your lunch hour by going for a 15 to 20 minute walk, standing while you eat or going up and down a few flights of stairs for 10 minutes during these super cold months.
Sure, you might feel a little ridiculous for repeatedly climbing the stairwell, but your heart will thank you.
2.) Catch more zzz’s
I’m embarrassed to say that “I’ll sleep when I’m dead” actually used to be my life motto less than three years ago. Eventually I realized that skipping out on important rest hours was actually going to send me to my final destination of “dead” a lot quicker than if I just took the time to sleep.
A 2008 University of Chicago study found a link between shortened sleep and increased calcium deposits in the heart, which is a strong predictor of subsequent coronary artery disease.
And in case you were thinking you could just “catch up on sleep” to prevent the damage, that doesn’t work. You’re better off taking a serious look at how you fill your hours of the day, reprioritize, and adjust your schedule to go to bed and wake up earlier to get everything done that you need to in a day.
3.) Switching to Red Wine
Although this isn’t an excuse to start chugging cabernet, it is a way to at least benefit from your after-work libation.
According to the Mayo Clinic, it’s the antioxidant, resveratrol, in red wine that might be a heart-healthy ingredient. Some studies have show that resveratrol can help to prevent damage to blood vessels, reduce low-density lipoprotein cholesterol and prevents blood clots.
When looking for a heart-healthy red, stick to the drier varieties such as pinot noirs, cabernets and syrahs.
4.) Stress Less
Easier said than done, but important to work on none-the-less. Our bodies are not meant to be in a constant state of stress, yet with the hustle of living in the city, being a professional and trying to maintain a social life often keeps us there.
The main link between excessive levels of stress is increased blood pressure, which can increase your risk for heart disease. However, stress also brings forth other consequences such as lack of motivation to exercise, overeating and/or over-consuming alcohol, which are also harmful to your heart health.
I don’t need to tell you how you can relieve stress, you already know the ways to do that, this is just another reminder to make “you time” a priority.
5.) Stop smoking…yes, even socially
According to the American Heart Association, smoking reduces the amount of oxygen your heart receives, raises your blood pressure, speeds up your heart rate, makes blood clots more likely, all of which can lead to heart attacks or strokes.
Most people know these facts, but choose to ignore them for a variety of reasons, one of them being that “I only smoke occasionally when I’m out.”
It may be occasional now, but you’re still actively harming your body and putting your self at risk for nicotine addiction and more frequent smoking. It’s just not worth it.
6.) Trim your Waistline
A recent article from the Huffington Post stated that researchers from Brigham and Women’s Hospital found that people who have higher amounts of abdominal fat, versus other parts of the body, have higher risks of cancer and heart disease.
This is because higher levels of fat around the middle indicate more fat around the internal organs.
I doubt that getting rid of any lumps around the middle is something you’ll object to, but as we all know…it’s not easy to get a six-pack. The best part is, you don’t need to have washboard abs, you just need to reduce fat and in the process build up your abdominal musculature to create a strong and lean core. This can be done a variety of ways including HIIT, cycling, strength training, and some of these other cardio workouts. (link to other article about 5 Non-Treadmill Workout to Get Your Blood Pumping)
7.) Go to Your Doctor
Listen, I get not wanting to go to the doctor. I would actually think you’re a little weird if you enjoyed it, but it’s important to know about your baseline levels of health by getting a annual physical.
Knowing things like your blood pressure, for example, are important should you ever experience a problem where your doctor could benefit from knowing your normal levels. Without having a baseline, it may take much longer for a physician to figure out your problem and find a solution.
8.) Soak Up the Sun
While this may be difficult to do in the dead of winter, as soon as it starts warming up and we can expose our arms and legs to the open air, lay off the sunscreen for a bit.
Obviously if you’re sunbathing in the summer you’ll want to lather up, but for brief trips outside, don’t let SPF interfere with the Vitamin D boost you can get.
According to John Hopkins Medicine, “A growing number of studies point to vitamin D deficiency as a risk factor for heart attacks, congestive heart failure, peripheral arterial disease (PAD), strokes, and the conditions associated with cardiovascular disease, such as high blood pressure and diabetes.”
Needless to say, try to get out and soak up some rays when you can.