By Professional Physical Therapy
A healthy heart is the cornerstone of overall well-being, and taking proactive steps to maintain cardiovascular health is crucial for a long and vibrant life. This is a particularly important message because heart disease is the leading cause of death in our country. The good news is that many causes of heart disease are preventable with simple lifestyle changes and early detection.
We will delve into seven effective ways to care for your heart, shedding light on the benefits of regular health screenings, including blood pressure and cholesterol levels, as well as the often-overlooked physical therapy screening. By incorporating these seven powerful strategies into your routine, you can take proactive steps towards ensuring a strong and resilient heart for years to come.
Regular Exercise: Aim for at least 150 minutes (2.5 hours) of moderate-intensity aerobic activity per week.
Physical activity is one of the most effective ways to promote heart health. Engaging in regular exercise helps lower blood pressure, control weight, and reduce the risk of heart disease. The American Heart Association recommends adults get at least 150 minutes per week (or 30 minutes per day for 5 days) of moderate-intensity activity, and this can be accomplished by walking briskly. Keeping your body moving consistently throughout each day, if only for a few minutes can make all the difference.
Professional’s Robert Shapiro, PT, DPT, COMT, Vice President of Clinical Excellence weighs in on the importance of regular exercise and how physical therapy can help. He says, “As physical therapists, we can offer expert guidance on exercise modifications and adaptations to suit individual needs, particularly for those with pre-existing conditions or limited mobility. We can also provide specialized exercises that focus on cardiovascular efficiency and endurance, enhancing the heart-healthy benefits of routine physical activity.”
Here are a few easy exercises you can also try to help strengthen your heart.
- Walking: Taking a short walk during your lunch break or a longer walk on the weekend will get your heart rate up and is easier on your joints than other types of exercise.
- Weight Training: Things like push-ups, squats, or even pull-ups can help you build muscle and contribute to bone and heart health.
- Swimming: This can be a full-body workout that will not only strengthen your body, but your heart.
- Yoga: Certain types of yoga can increase your heart rate while still providing the calm that will lower your blood pressure. Try a yoga class or check out free yoga programs online.
- Cycling: It uses large muscles in your legs which helps elevate the heart rate. Cycling has also been shown to improve your mental health.
Heart-Healthy Diet: Reduce or limit salt (sodium) and eat more vegetables and fruit.
Eating a nutritious, well-balanced diet is paramount. Too much sodium (salt) can cause your blood pressure to go up and that raises your risk of heart disease and stroke. The American Heart Association reports that a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins can also help lower the risk of heart disease and stroke. The American Heart Association suggests these daily amounts.
- Vegetables– canned, dried, fresh & frozen; 5 servings
- Fruits– canned, dried, fresh & frozen; 4 servings
- Whole grains– barley, brown rice, millet, oatmeal, popcorn and whole wheat bread, crackers & pasta; 3-6 servings
- Dairy– low fat (1%) and fat-free; 3 servings
- Proteins – eggs, fish, lean meat, legumes, nuts, poultry & seeds; 1-2 servings
- Oils – polyunsaturated and monounsaturated canola, olive, peanut, safflower & sesame oil; 3 Tbsp.
Regular Health Screenings: Prioritize blood pressure, cholesterol, and physical therapy check-ups.
Health screenings are essential for early detection of heart issues. The World Heart Federation highlights that cardiovascular diseases surged 60% globally over the last 30 years, making regular check-ups crucial for prevention.
- Blood Pressure – High blood pressure is a significant risk factor for heart disease. The American Heart Association estimates that nearly half of American adults have high blood pressure, underscoring the importance of monitoring and managing this critical metric.
- Cholesterol – Elevated cholesterol levels can contribute to plaque buildup in arteries. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention state that 12.1% of adults in the United States have high cholesterol, highlighting the need for lifestyle changes and medication when necessary.
- Physical Therapy – In addition to traditional health screenings, a specialized physical therapy screening can provide valuable insights into your heart health. Physical Therapy assessments may include evaluating posture, mobility, and muscular strength, which can have a direct impact on cardiovascular function. Addressing any imbalances or limitations through targeted physical therapy interventions can contribute to a healthier heart.
Maintain a Healthy Weight: Maintain an Adult Body Mass Index (BMI) less than 25kg/m2.
Your BMI is a numerical value of your weight in relation to your height. To help you determine if you are at a healthy weight, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states the following:
- Underweight: Below 18.5
- Healthy weight: 18.5 to 24.9
- Overweight: 25 to 29.9
- Obese: 30 or above
Being overweight strains the heart and increases the risk of cardiovascular issues. The CDC also states that obesity affects approximately 42.4% of adults in the United States, emphasizing the need for weight management for heart health. A balanced approach that combines proper nutrition and regular physical activity is key to weight management.
If you are looking to maintain a healthy weight, physical therapy might not be something that comes to mind. But physical therapists can address factors like muscle imbalances and movement inefficiencies that can hinder weight management efforts. By improving these aspects, they can help you engage in more effective and enjoyable physical activities, thus supporting sustained weight management and a healthier heart.
Quit Smoking: Give up smoking and reduce your risk of heart disease by 50%, within one year after quitting.
Smoking is a major contributor to heart disease. The American Heart Association reveals that smokers are two to four times more likely to develop heart disease than non-smokers. And according to medical experts, if you quit now, you’ll see fast results.
- Just 20 minutes after you stop, your blood pressure and heart rate go down.
- In 2-3 weeks, your blood flow starts to improve, and you’ll start to breathe easier.
- Within a year, your risk of heart disease, stroke, emphysema, and lung cancer will drop by up to 50%.
Manage Stress: Decrease stress for long periods of time (longer than 3 months).
Chronic stress can negatively impact heart health. Long term stress (longer than 3 months) means you constantly have a higher level of adrenaline in your body, increasing your blood sugar, your blood pressure, and making your muscles tense. This increases your risk of heart attack or stroke according to the The American Heart Association. Figuring out what triggers your stress is an important step in dealing with and managing your stress. You can also try:
- Taking part in social activities – Chat with a colleague or loved one.
- Give to others – Try volunteering or perform a random act of kindness.
- Begin to journal – Be mindful of your daily life.
- Practice relaxation – Try techniques while listening to music.
- Harness what makes you happy – Reflect on when you feel energetic and fulfilled.
- Try Physical Therapy – Physical therapy can include education on body awareness and the identification of physical stress responses. We can teach techniques for managing these responses, such as progressive muscle relaxation and posture correction exercises, which can help in reducing the physical manifestations of stress and its impact on heart health.
Get Enough Sleep: Maintain 7-9 hours of sleep each night.
Quality sleep is essential for overall health, including heart health. The National Sleep Foundation recommends 7-9 hours of sleep per night, with inadequate sleep linked to an increased risk of heart disease and heart attack. Here are a few tips to try to sleep well and protect your heart:
- Have a consistent bedtime.
- Avoid TV and computer 30 minutes before you turn in.
- Getting exercise during the day can help ready you for sleep.
- Put your phone on “do not disturb” to block it all out when you’re trying to sleep.
Maintaining a healthy heart is a lifelong commitment that involves adopting a holistic approach to lifestyle and well-being. The statistics on heart disease emphasize the urgency of implementing these strategies for heart health. By incorporating these habits into our daily lives, we can take significant strides toward ensuring a strong and resilient heart, promoting a longer and healthier life.
If you are experiencing pain, our certified therapists at Professional Physical Therapy can help. Get started today and make an appointment for a consultation so you can feel better and get back to doing the things you love.