Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the U.S. In fact, one person dies from heart disease every 36 seconds. In spite of the ongoing pandemic, it’s still possible to be proactive about your cardiovascular health.
Here are five things you can do at home to keep your heart as healthy as possible!
Reduce your stress levels.
Stress increases your cortisol levels, which can lead to an increase in blood sugar, cholesterol, and blood pressure, all of which combine to increase your risk of heart disease.
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 7 in 10 adults in the U.S. say the pandemic has significantly increased their stress levels. Between financial worries, health concerns, childcare logistics, and learning to work from home or help their children with distance learning, stress levels are at an all-time high.
Since lowering your stress level is one of the most effective things you can do to reduce your risk of heart disease, it’s important to find stress-reducing activities that are easy (and often free!) to do from home.
Examples of at-home stress reduction options include mindfulness, exercise, aromatherapy, reading, meditation, deep breathing, soothing music, laughter, taking baths, and yoga.
Get enough sleep.
It’s hard to overstate how important sleep is to your cardiovascular health. If you’re not getting 7-9 hours of restorative sleep every night, you’re more prone to hypertension (high blood pressure), obesity, and high cortisol levels. You’re also less likely to exercise, and more likely to consume food that’s high in processed sugar and saturated fat.
Fortunately, there are several simple things you can do at home to improve your quantity and quality of sleep.
- Develop a bedtime routine creating a calming rhythm that winds down your day, lowers your stress levels, and signals your brain and body that it’s time for sleep.
- Avoid screens for at least an hour before bedtime, since the light emitted by screens interferes with your brain’s production of the sleep-inducing hormone melatonin.
- Limit your intake of alcohol and caffeine, which can interfere with healthy sleeping patterns. If you feel you must consume caffeine to get through the day, make sure you establish a cut-off time so your finish your caffeinated beverage before the afternoon.
- Make your bedroom a dim-lit, calming, comfortable, inviting space you look forward to retiring to every night.
Make your meals and snacks healthier.
When we’re stressed or bored or feeling down, we often reach for “comfort food,” which contains high levels of simple carbohydrates and fat that give us a temporary reprieve from negative emotions -- but often cause long-term harm.
In the end, unhealthy food choices actually lead to higher rates of depression, insomnia, obesity, hypertension, and high cholesterol.
Because food impacts so many dynamics of our cardiovascular health, it’s more important than ever to make healthy food choices. Learning how to clean up your diet is the first step.
To eat healthier:
- Focus on whole (non-processed) ingredients.
- Eat a diet that’s primarily plant-based (or choose a few days a week to be meat-free.)
- Find low-fat or reduced-calorie substitutions for your favorite ingredients.
- Prepare your meals at home, since homemade meals tend to be lower in sodium, calories, and fat than food that’s prepared by a restaurant or store-made.
- Create a rhythm for your eating habits to prevent mindless or impulsive eating (Pro-tip: if junk food isn’t in the house, you can’t reach for it!).
Find creative ways to move.
It can be hard to find ways to get the recommended amount of heart-healthy exercise when many gyms are closed, and many areas of the U.S. are experiencing inclement winter weather. But it’s still important to find ways to get the physical activity your heart needs to stay healthy -- which is 75 minutes of rigorous activity or 150 minutes of moderate activity a week (only about 12-22 minutes per day!).
You can throw a dance party. Deep clean the house. Play with your kids. Walk up and down your stairs. Take a walk whenever you’re on a work call or catching up with a friend. Stream an online exercise class.
Even though your usual exercise options might not be available to you right now, finding creative ways to move your body and increase your heart rate will help your heart stay as healthy as possible.
Don’t forget about check-ups.
It’s hard to believe that the CDC’s “Fifteen Days To Flatten The Curve” in March 2020 has turned into nearly a year of public health measures initiated to stop the spread of COVID-19.
While many people have been diligent about wearing masks, practicing social distancing, and avoiding crowded indoor spaces - some haven’t been as diligent at keeping up with check-ups and preventive health screening recommended for them.
Because of this, many people are overdue for PAP smears, colon cancer screenings, mammograms, blood pressure checks, and blood work that evaluates blood sugar, cholesterol, and other factors that can contribute to heart disease.
It’s important to remember that many health care providers offer remote visits or reduced-capacity facilities that can help you get the care you need while keeping you as safe as possible.
It’s important to do what you can to lower your risk of COVID-19 -- and it’s also important to lower your risk of heart disease by staying up to date with the health screenings you’re due for this year.
At GoHealth Urgent Care, we’re here 7 days a week to care for you.
Written by Sarah Thebarge, Physician Assistant