7 easy steps to protect your heart’s health

woman looking at mountains and lake Thursday, January 31, 2019

Older adults aren't the only group concerned about heart disease risk.

About half of U.S. adults now have high-blood pressure, according to the American Heart Association. That can lead to heart disease if left untreated. The guidelines changed in November 2017, so a reading of 130 on top or 80 on the bottom is now considered high blood pressure. 

The good news? You have the power to put up a fight against heart disease. Small changes to your diet, exercise, and lifestyle can make a major impact on your heart's health.

Follow these 7 steps

1. Stay away from hidden sugars

Hidden sugars are a major culprit to avoid. But how much is too much? According to the American Heart Association, women should get no more than 100 calories a day from added sugar. Men should get no more than 150 calories a day.

Natural sugars from fruits and low-fat dairy products are all right. But avoid added sugars, especially from sweet drinks and packaged foods.

2. Get more fiber

Fiber helps lower cholesterol. It keeps blood pressure and blood sugar levels in check. It's also a key to weight loss. Choose fiber-rich whole grains like brown rice and wheat bread. Avoid low-fiber alternatives like white rice and white bread. Other foods like berries, broccoli, and beans are also great fiber sources.

3. Stand more often

Recent research has shown that extended sitting can harm your heart's health. Make sure you pay attention to any idle time, such as when you're watching TV, driving, or sitting at a desk. Try to get up for a quick walk or stretch every 20 minutes.

4. Limit medications for pain

If you take pain relievers, you may want to hold off or check with your doctor first. Drugs like ibuprofen, naproxen, and diclofenac can spike your risk for heart attack and stroke. If you have diabetes, high blood pressure, or high cholesterol, this is particularly important. Try to relieve pain using other methods. Gentle stretches may help if your back hurts and massages may soothe aching hands. If pain continues, check with your doctor.

5. Sleep better

Never underestimate the value of a good night's sleep. Research shows that lack of sleep can lead to high blood pressure and obesity. Try to sleep for 7 to 9 hours each night. Avoiding caffeine after noon may help you sleep better.

6. Keep stress in check

Stress hormones cause spikes in blood pressure, heart rate, and blood sugar levels, which can lead to higher chances of a blood clot. Many studies have shown meditation can fight stress too. Here's a simple breathing exercise: sit comfortably, and then take 10 deep breaths. Also try to spend more time with loved ones and on your favorite hobbies.

7. Volunteer

Volunteering gives you a sense of purpose and an opportunity to pursue your passions. It's a proven way to improve your quality of life. Double down and join a walk or race to raise awareness for heart disease or other health issues.

Managing heart disease risk isn't always easy, but you have support. Health plans like LifeWise encourage and support customers in leading a heart-healthy life.