By Alyse Turner, BSN, RN
Cardiothoracic & Vascular Surgery Coordinator / Open Heart Surgery Educator
Heart & Vascular Specialists of Northwest Ohio
A heart-healthy diet includes low cholesterol, low saturated fat, low sodium and low salt. This may seem overwhelming, but one can start by reading labels on food products and looking at the cholesterol, fat, sodium and sugar contents to get an idea of what types of foods have those higher contents. Once familiarized with those higher-content foods, it will be easier to adjust what is put in the grocery cart at the store.
When cooking a meal, avoid frying foods. Other options are baking, broiling, grilling, steaming or poaching food. Canola oil and olive oil are good to use to prepare the food. Avoid using salt in recipes and having salt on the dinner table. Food can still be very flavorful using herbs, spices that are low sodium, and vegetables to season your food. Cracked pepper, garlic, onions, parsley and rosemary are some of the many options to get flavorful food without the sodium. Avoid smoking and excessive use of alcohol and caffeine as well; those can impact the whole circulatory system by making the lungs and or heart work harder.
Along with a healthier diet, exercise is also important for a healthy heart. Lower-impact exercises such as walking, biking (moving or stationary), swimming and yoga are all good options. A good option to assist with motivation and or accountability, if needed, is to grab a friend to exercise with you! Another option is to sign up for virtual races, where you go at your own pace, and activities such as walking, running, biking and swimming all count towards your mileage. There are supportive social media pages for these as well.
Start out exercising a little bit at a time, or every other day, and work up to daily activity. Try to make sure your exercise is not in temperature extremes of cold or hot, to reduce extra environmental stressors on your body. It is important to listen to your body. Rest if you get tired, especially between big activities. Resting with your lower legs elevated above heart level can help circulation and reduce swelling. Another item that helps with circulation and leg fatigue is compression stockings.
Sleeping is also an important component of a healthy heart and overall well-being. To have a better night’s sleep, try to limit naps, caffeine and excessive fluid consumption before you go to sleep. All of these things could keep you up at night. Try to wind down after your day before going to sleep. Winding down can include taking a warm shower, reading, meditating, watching TV, listening to a podcast, painting, baking, crocheting or knitting. It may also help that there be no screen time for 20 to 30 minutes right before bedtime.
Remember, diet, exercise, rest and sleep are four modifiable components in life that promote a healthy heart!