Leading a healthy lifestyle reduces the risk of developing heart disease. If you have suffered a heart attack in the past, underwent heart surgery or have been diagnosed with heart disease, it is important to follow basic self-care guidelines to minimize future risks. Additional cardiac rehabilitation counseling may be required for effective self-care skill training. Here are 10 steps to comprehensive self-care.
The Best Treatment Is Pro-active Prevention
This Is Especially True for Heart Disease
Step 1: Scheduling regular medical checkups
Have your doctor evaluate your personal- and family history with regards to heart disease and other related health issues. Through regular physical exams and respective tests, your physician can determine which preventive measures should be taken to protect your heart from further damage.
Recommended action: Make an appointment with your health care provider and maintain a regular schedule – at least once a year.
Step 2: Controlling blood pressure
Monitoring blood pressure is important for all heart disease patients. The higher your blood pressure goes the greater is your risk for heart attack or stroke. Staying within your ideal weight range, losing excess weight if necessary, exercising and keeping to dietary restrictions, especially with regards to sodium, can help reduce your blood pressure. If elevation persists, medication may be warranted.
Recommended action: Monitor your blood pressure regularly. Lose weight if you are overweight. Begin or maintain a safe and age-appropriate exercise regimen. Follow a low sodium diet.
Step 3: Staying within a healthy weight range
Weight management – and, if necessary, weight loss – is a crucial element in the treatment of heart disease. Excess weight is associated not only with high blood pressure, but also elevated triglycerides, higher LDL (a.k.a. “bad” cholesterol), lower HDL (“good” cholesterol) and diabetes.
Recommended action: Maintain a healthy, balanced diet that includes more fresh fruits and vegetables and less meat and processed foods. Cut back on fat, sugar and salt whenever possible. Restrict calorie intake by reducing portion sizes. If you have difficulties in keeping to a healthy diet, consider weight loss counseling and get help in drawing up a comprehensive diet/weight loss plan. For more details, go to Succeeding at Weight Loss.
Step 4: Maintaining a heart healthy diet
Poor diet and lifestyle choices are most often at the root of obesity, high blood pressure and heart disease. Designing a heart healthy diet is not complicated, but you need to know a few basic facts. The ingredients of a heart healthy diet are similar to those for weight loss, since both objectives often go hand in hand.
Especially important is to limit fat intake, most of all saturated fat. These fats have the propensity of raising LDL (“bad” cholesterol). High amounts of fat contribute significantly to the risks of obesity and to heart disease.
Although you don’t have to become a vegetarian to eat heart healthy, fresh produce and whole grains (both good sources of soluble fiber) should be at the center of your diet. Fish, lean meat, legumes (beans and peas) and low-fat dairy products are excellent providers of protein.
Recommended action: Eat a diet rich in natural, mostly plant-based nutrients and avoid empty calories, fat, sugar and salt as much as possible. For more details, Get the Facts on Fats.
Step 5: Monitoring cholesterol
Consuming too much dietary cholesterol can lead to chronically elevated cholesterol in the blood. Diet- and lifestyle modifications, including regular physical exercise, can help lower LDL (“bad” cholesterol) and raise HDL (“good” cholesterol) levels. In some cases, i.e. where chronically elevated cholesterol is a genetic condition, medications may be warranted.
Recommended action: Limit consumption of foods that are high in cholesterol. If you eat meat, reduce portion sizes and choose only lean animal products. Avoid or cut back on foods that contain the highest amounts of cholesterol, such as red meat, shellfish and egg yolk.
Step 6: Limiting sodium (salt)
Sodium ranks among the leading causes for high blood pressure today. A concentrated presence of sodium can even interfere with the effectiveness of blood pressure lowering medications.
Sodium is not only added to food through the deliberate use of salt in the kitchen and at the dinner table – it is also widely utilized by food manufacturers as a preservative and taste enhancer. Health experts have frequently expressed concerns over the excessive amounts of salt that can be found in many processed food items.
Recommended action: Eat mostly fresh, unprocessed foods. When you buy processed items, read the nutrition labels for sodium content and choose the brand with the lowest amount. In restaurants, ask for your meals to be prepared without salt.
Step 7: Consuming alcohol, if at all, only in moderation
Moderate consumption of alcoholic beverages (especially red wine) can have certain health benefits. However, excessive alcohol intake can raise blood pressure, elevate triglycerides and cause weight gain – all of which potentially increase the risk of heart disease. Certain medical conditions may require complete avoidance of alcohol.
Recommended action: One drink for women and two drinks for men daily should be the limit. Talk to your doctor about possible effects of alcohol if you suffer from heart disease or other related illnesses.
Step 8: Smoking
Smoking has no place in any healthy lifestyle, but heart disease patients have many compelling reasons to stay away from tobacco. Smoking raises LDL (“bad” cholesterol), and lowers HDL (“good” cholesterol), elevates blood pressure and contributes to atherosclerosis, also referred to as “hardening of the arteries.”
Recommended action: If you don’t smoke, don’t start. If you smoke, quit now. Ask your doctor about medications or programs to help you if you have difficulties quitting.
Step 9: Managing stress
Stress is a primary culprit for heart disease and high blood pressure. Responding to stress with smoking, drinking, drug use or overeating can only make things worse. Heart disease patients are particularly vulnerable towards by the effects of chronic stress.
Recommended action: Identify stress factors and learn to reduce stress. Get lots of physical exercise. Avoid numbing substances, like alcohol, drugs, tobacco or so-called comfort foods. If necessary, seek professional counseling for stress management.
Step 10: Getting enough exercise
Regular physical exercise is a must for everyone, but for heart disease patients, it can be a matter of life and death. Getting your heart rate up at least once a day by working out or playing athletic sports is important, especially if your lifestyle is largely sedentary. If you can’t find the time for proper exercising, find alternatives, like walking in the park or taking the stairs instead of the elevator.
Recommended action: Check with your physician before you take up any exercise program or sport you have no experience with. Heart disease patients should first be tested for potential risks. If you haven’t exercised in a while, start slowly and increase your activity level gradually.