As someone who’s had 3 heart surgeries, I have a deep interest in how to manage heart disease. Even if you haven’t been diagnosed with heart problems, you should still be concerned. Heart disease is the number one killer of American men and women.
The best way to protect against this deadly disease is to follow the latest guidelines of the American Heart Association. Essentially the AHA recommendations add up to living a healthy lifestyle. Discuss the 10 recommendations with your physician to establish an understanding of what your lifestyle ought to look like. Then create a plan to meet your objectives.
1. Cholesterol: Reduce LDL (bad) cholesterol to below 70 mg/dL if you already have heart disease. Otherwise, keeping your LDL level below 100 mg/dL will help reduce your chances of developing heart problems. Statin drugs are often required to achieve these results.
2. Diet: Eat nutrient rich foods like fish, vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and low fat dairy products. Go to webmd.com/diet/healthtool-food-calorie-counter for specific recommendations regarding caloric intake and heart healthy foods.
3. Exercise: Make an effort to be active for 30 minutes every day. At a minimum, exercise 5 days a week. Brisk walking early in the day with a friend is a good way to get into exercising. Begin with moderate physical activity, even if that’s taking 3 ten minutes walks during the day.
4. Weight: Keep your waistline to under 40 inches if you’re a male, and under 35 inches if you’re female. Losing weight involves a simple formula – you must eat fewer calories than you burn off in a day. Learn effective strategies for achieving this goal by reading the American Heart Association No-Fad Diet: A Personal Plan for Healthy Weight Loss.
5. Blood Pressure: Aim for readings below 140/90 mm Hg. Having a healthy lifestyle is the best strategy for controlling your blood pressure. If that doesn’t do enough, medications may be needed.
6. Diabetes Management: Keep your hemoglobin A1c under 7%. People with diabetes are two to four times more likely to develop cardiovascular disease. The best way to keep your blood sugar under control is diet and exercise, even if you take diabetes medications.
7. Aspirin: Unless your doctor tells you not to, the AHA recommends that you take low-dose aspirin (75-162 mg) every day.
8. ACE Inhibitors and Beta Blockers: Those who have heart failure, high blood pressure, diabetes, or kidney disease are advised to take an ACE inhibitor every day. In addition, those who’ve had a heart attack, unstable angina, or left ventricular dysfunction are counseled to take a beta blocker.
9. Influenza Vaccination: Get one every fall.
10. Smoking: Stop! Studies show that the most effective strategy for quitting is talk therapy combined with nicotine replacement. Anti-depressant medications can help as well.
Now that you’re aware of the lifestyle changes you need to make, planning how you will actually implement the modifications becomes imperative. Planning starts by visualizing the outcomes you’d like to see, and imagining how you’ll look and feel when you get there. Next, think of the strengths that you’ve used to achieve past objectives, and how they could help you accomplish your new goals.
The planning process continues by analyzing your current situation in order to identify obstacles, in your life as well as in your thinking. What circumstances typically derail your efforts? What do you say to yourself when you’re rationalizing your bad choices? What solutions would help you overcome those external and internal stumbling blocks?
Become aware of your negative self-talk, and start talking back. Notice your self-defeating thoughts such as, “I’m too tired to walk.” Reframe your negativity into positive messages like, “A little walk will make me feel better.”
Start with very modest goals. Low expectations will be easier to achieve, and will build your self-confidence. Be prepared for challenges and setbacks. Rehearse how you’ll successfully ward off temptations, and how you’ll get yourself back on track if you don’t.
Keep a log of what you eat and how much you exercise. Not only will this improve self-regulation, it will show your progress in black and white. At the end of each day, review your choices and give yourself plenty of positive reinforcement for what you did right. Create new strategies for those situations in which you need improvement.
These guidelines will keep you healthy, but very few people create a plan to live by them. If you fail to plan, then plan on the fact your health will fail.