8 Tips for a Healthy Heart
Follow these tips to ward off heart disease
Think of your heart as a metronome. It keeps the beat to your body’s daily functions, pushing blood near and far to nourish every cell and fiber. As a powerhouse organ, you’ll want to keep your heart in tip-top shape, especially because diabetes can up your risk for heart disease.
Here, Laurence Sperling, MD, FACC, FACP, FAHA, professor of medicine in cardiology, director of the Emory Heart Disease Prevention Center in Atlanta, and chair of the American College of Cardiology’s Cardiometabolic Disease Prevention Committee, shares eight tips for keeping your heart healthy:
- Exercise more. You don’t have to run five miles daily to get a good workout. Just taking more steps, if you’re counting, can have a benefit. “The muscles are involved in the utilization of glucose, so regular moderate exercise is critical to individuals with diabetes in terms of treating their diabetes and cardiovascular risk,” Sperling says. “It’s important to build some regular activity into your life.”
- Sit less. Many of us spend our days in a seated position—whether at work, driving, watching TV, or using a computer. “A recent paper basically said that … if you’re sedentary more than 10 hours a day, that correlates with risk for vascular disease,” says Sperling. You may have to get creative to reduce your sitting time. Maybe going for a stroll around the office every 60 or 90 minutes is an option. Or ask your employer to consider standing desks, treadmill desks, or pedal work stations.
- Eat well. The Mediterranean diet, the Therapeutic Lifestyle Changes diet, and the DASH diet all have benefits for people with diabetes, Sperling says. “They are anti-inflammatory, sustainable, and they are diets that allow a lot of variation in terms of being creative with what you eat.”
- Slash sugar. Small changes can have big benefits: Cut out sugar-sweetened beverages, foods with added sugars, processed carbohydrates (white bread, white rice, and white potatoes, for instance), and curb your alcohol intake. “Alcohol is fermented sugar, and when your body breaks it down, it becomes sugar,” Sperling says.
- Set goals. Losing weight and maintaining weight require different behaviors, but both are important. When losing weight, don’t get fixated on an ideal number. “You can make significant gains in health and the treatment of diabetes, and other risk factors related to diabetes, with very modest weight loss,” says Sperling. Focus on attainable goals, and weigh yourself often. To lose weight, you’ll need to either eat 500 fewer calories a day, burn 500 extra calories, or some combination of diet and exercise. To maintain your weight, Sperling recommends eating a health breakfast most days and being active—walking counts—almost every day.
- Manage stress. Exercise, meditation, relaxation, music, and art help with stress management and heart health. “Stress releases hormones in our body, and many of these hormones raise our blood sugar and make it harder for our diabetes to get under good control,” says Sperling. And stress impacts the blood vessels, making it harder for them to relax, which increases the risk of heart disease. “Really try to discern for yourself: What are some of the things you can do to diffuse stress in your life?” he says.
- Sleep better. Much like stress, poor sleep can raise stress hormones. “Six to eight hours is probably the ideal amount of sleep for most adults,” says Sperling. One thing that can make getting a good night sleep difficult for people with diabetes is sleep apnea, a condition many people don’t even realize they have. Symptoms include loud snoring, spells where you stop breathing at night, and excessive sleepiness during the day. Talk with your doctor if you experience any of these. It could be affecting your glucose control and upping your risk for hypertension and heart disease.
- Know your numbers. Keep track of your health stats using a chart or log, says Sperling. Check your blood pressure and blood glucose regularly, and be aware of your most current blood test results, including A1C and cholesterol. “People can give you advice, direction, and information, but actual behavioral changes come through a good partnership between the patient and physician,” says Sperling.