Keep On Ticking: Your Essential Guide to Heart Health
What You Can Do to Fight Heart DiseaseDo. Not. Ignore.
Must-know signs of serious heart problems
- Shortness of breath
- Chest pain, pressure, tightness, or discomfort
- Sudden pain, tightness, or discomfort in the arms, jaw, back, neck, or stomach
- Breaking out in a cold sweat, unusual nausea or vomiting, profound fatigue
- Fainting or nearly fainting
- Rapid or slow heartbeat
- A fluttering sensation that feels like butterflies or fish flopping in your chest
- Dizziness, light-headedness, or vertigo
If you experience any of these symptoms, see your doc, who can do diagnostics to identify and treat the issue or refer you to a heart specialist. If one or a combo of these symptoms comes on suddenly, feels severe, or causes you alarm, err on the side of caution and call 911.Know Your Numbers
Track these key digits that indicate possible problems with your heart and/or arteries. Pay particular attention to blood pressure. "Because anybody can check BP, it's a really good reading to base your overall heart health on," says James Beckerman, MD, a cardiologist at Providence St. Vincent Heart Clinic in Portland, Oregon. Your ideal numbers:
Blood pressure (check it at the drugstore)
|LDL (bad cholesterol)||<100 mg/dL|
|HDL (healthy cholesterol)||>50 mg/dL|
|Blood glucose||<100 mg/dL|
Talk to your doctor if your numbers are outside these targets.
Along with exercise, the best way to maximize heart health is through your diet. Start by eating lean protein, whole grains, and healthy fats to keep your blood moving and your weight down. Then make these two crucial adjustments to ensure that your ticker keeps living up to its name, says Dr. Beckerman.
Add more fiber.
Foods that naturally contain fiber (think fruits, vegetables, and whole grains) are healthy and filling, so they help you stay slim, which is good for your heart. Fiber also lowers bad cholesterol by absorbing it and moving it out of your system. Aim for 25 to 30 grams of fiber a day. You'll hit that range by eating oatmeal (5 grams per 1/2 cup) and a banana (3 grams) for breakfast, chili (black beans have 8 grams per half cup) and a pear (6 grams) for lunch, and a side of broccoli with dinner (5 grams per cup).
Consume less processed meat.
"So many heart patients say they're never going to have a cheeseburger or steak again, but that's not realistic," Dr. Beckerman says. "Plus it's the bacon, sausage, and processed deli meats that are the real problem." Docs don't yet know if the culprit is the sodium, preservatives, or saturated fat that processed meats contain, he says, but it's wise to cut back.Kick Up Your Cardio
One of the best ways to strengthen your heart is to work it. "Think of exercise as medication," says Dr. Beckerman. In addition to your usual cardio routine, do moves that combine cardio and strength training to increase your aerobic capacity and improve your fitness, which will help your heart function better. Katie Wade, a trainer and running coach in Gainesville, Florida, recommends doing this heart-pumping workout once or twice a week.
After completing the required number of reps for each move, run 30 yards out and 30 yards back at a sprint pace (as fast as you can).
Lower into a squat; place palms on floor in front of feet. Jump feet back into full plank position. Jump feet toward hands and then jump up immediately, extending arms overhead.
15 jump squats
Lower into a deep squat and raise arms, slightly bent, to chest level. Jump up. Land with knees soft and repeat.
20 jumping lunges
Lunge forward with left leg, bending both knees 90 degrees. Jump straight up as high as you can, switching legs midair so that you land in a lunge with right foot forward. Repeat, alternating sides quickly.
25 jumping jacks
30 mountain climbers
Start in full plank position and step feet out slightly wider than shoulder-width. Bring right knee in toward chest, then quickly return to start and repeat with left knee. Continue alternating sides.
Rest 2 to 3 minutes and repeat the entire workout 2 to 3 more times.
-- Ted Spiker
Originally published in FITNESS magazine, February 2013.
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