Already giving up on your lofty New Year’s resolutions of getting abs like Usher’s or Halle’s killer thighs? Real Health suggests rather than focusing on externals, you work your inside—your heart, to be exact. Heart disease—hypertension, clogged arteries and strokes—is a major health concern in this country, especially among African Americans. In fact, an estimated 45 percent of black adults suffer from some form of cardiovascular disease.
But you have the power to reverse the damage—and to prevent it from developing at all. RH offers up five resolutions that can strengthen your heart. They don’t require medications or spending a lot of money. Ready for the challenge?
- Get a physical and know your numbers: In order to assess our risk, you need a routine physical and blood tests to know your levels of the following:
Low-density lipoprotein (LDL), or “bad” cholesterol-Cholesterol that carries mostly fat from the liver to other parts of the body. A high level (greater than 130mg/dL) may increase your chance of developing heart disease. But if you already have a higher risk for heart disease (previous heart attacks, diabeties, or two or more of the following risk factors: smoking; high blood pressure; low HDL cholesterol; family history of early-onset heart disease; 45 and older (for men) or 55 and older (for women), opt for a number lower than 70mg/dL.
High-density lipoprotein (HDL), or “good” cholesterol-Cholesterol that helps remove fat from the body. A high level (greater than 60mg/dL) may lower your chances of having a heart attack or stroke.
Triglycerides: Type of fat the body uses to store energy. Only a small amount should be found in the blood. High levels (greater than 150mg/dL) of triglycerides along with LDL can increase your risk.
Blood pressure: The force in the arteries when the heart beats (systolic pressure) and when the heart is at rest (dialostic pressure). A healthy blood pressure is anything less than 120/80, but a pre-hypertension level can fall anywhere between that and 129/89.
FYI: If you don’t have health insurance, contact a local health clinic to find out if they offer physicals. Once you have the numbers, talk to a health care practitioner about your health status and treatment options if necessary.
- Walk every day for 30 minutes: Grab those sneakers and stride your way to a leaner and healthier you. Walking is appropriate for any fitness level and doesn’t require a gym membership—do it at the mall, high school track or up and down apartment steps. Can’t fit in a half-hour walk? Walk for ten minutes, three times a day. Just get it in. No excuses. Challenge yourself: Walk in intervals—speeding up and down—to burn extra calories and fat. Also, buy a pedometer —a portable and electronic device that counts each step a person makes. They are inexpensive, and studies show that people who use pedometers are more likely to lose weight.
- Add yoga or meditation to your exercise regimen: The mind-body connection is stronger than you think. Recent studies show that performing a series of poses and meditating for at least three days a week can reduce heart disease risk factors such as high blood pressure, obesity and high blood sugar. It also clobbers stress, a factor in heart disease. RH suggests the video A.M. and P.M. Yoga for Beginners With Rodney Yee and Patricia Walden (Gaiam, $20). Also, you can check out blackyogateachers.com to find an instructor in your area or visit learningmeditation.com to start a routine. No headstands required, we promise.
- Feast on omega-3-rich foods twice a week: If it seems like everyone is talking about omega 3s, there’s a good reason: By swapping out trans fats and saturated fats (processed meats and cheeses) with omega 3s—low-saturated fats naturally found in salmon, flaxseeds, eggs and walnuts—you can lower triglyceride levels, rev up your metabolism and protect your heart. Not into fish? Try fish oil supplements. Tip: Not all fish are created equal. Avoid tuna sushi and sashimi, shark, swordfish and king mackerel, all are loaded with mercury. Best bets: 4 oz. servings of low-mercury fish such as wild salmon, sardines, shrimp, catfish and canned light tuna in water.
- Increase fiber intake: Eating a higher-fiber diet—including fruits, vegetables, whole grains and legumes—has been shown to lower blood cholesterol levels, get you regulated, aid in weight loss and improve blood sugar levels. Although the recommended dietary fiber intake is between 20-35 grams a day, most Americans only get half that. Tip: Gradually add fiber to your diet because your body needs time to get used to it. If you don’t, you might get gassy and bloated. Also, make sure to drink lots of water to avoid constipation. Click here for a list of other high-fiber foods.
But don’t limit yourself to these five tips; learn more heart-healthy strategies at americanheart.org.