Love Your Heart 10 Things to Improve Heart Health

By Deborah Jeanne Sergeant

The American Heart Association lists three major risks for heart disease that you can’t alter: increasing age, gender (men have greater risk than women and tend to have attacks earlier in life), and heredity (those with heart disease in their family or who are of black, Mexican, American Indian, native Hawaiian and some Asian descent).

While these can’t change, you can mitigate your risk with lifestyle. Here are 10 tips from local health providers:

1.  Manage stress “Try to de-stress and take the pressure off of your body with things like yoga and tai chi. That is important for heart health,” said Lucy Connery, health promotion specialist at Wellness Institute of Greater Buffalo, who is completing a Master in Public Health degree at Daemen College.

2.  Get fit. “The Surgeon General’s recommendation for adults is five days a week, accumulating 30 minutes a day of moderate physical activity,” said Phil Haberstro, executive director of the Wellness Institute of Greater Buffalo. “Some research says seven to eight-minute sessions can have benefit, but you have to accumulate 30 minutes. If you want to be more physically fit, be active three days a week with higher intensity.”

3.  Avoid tobacco. “In all my years as a cardiologist, if you see someone who is under 50 and they have coronary artery disease, if they’re not diabetic, they’re a smoker,” said physician Anne B. Curtis, chairwoman of medicine at University at Buffalo and president of UBMD Internal Medicine. “The bad effects start to go away pretty quickly once they quit.”

4.  Eat right. “Drink more herbal teas,” said Barb Sylvester, clinical dietitian and certified diabetes educator with Kaleida Health’s Nutrition & Wellness Center. “They’re very underestimated. We should take more advantage of cooking at home and getting better quality food.”

“Follow a plant-based diet, but not necessarily vegetarian,” said Mary Jo Parker, registered dietitian with Nutrition and Counseling Services in Buffalo. “A diet that is rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains with naturally occurring fiber, limited intake of added sugars and low intake of processed foods. Processed foods are much higher in sodium, which can increase risk of hypertension and heart disease. Use the plate idea, where half the plate is produce, primarily vegetables, 1/4 of the plate being a lean protein — preferably a couple times a week have a vegetable source of protein like beans or tofu — and 1/4 of the plate, have a healthful starch. That’s heart healthy way to eat. Keep the amount of sodium in check.”

“When choosing a healthy oil, choose non-tropical oils like canola or olive oils,” said Danielle Meyer, a registered dietitian who teaches in UB’s School of Public Health and Health Professions. “Canola and olive oils are very popular and generally more affordable than other specialty healthy oils, such as avocado or walnut oils. Tropical oils, like palm or coconut oil, should be avoided; they tend to be very high in saturated fat. Foods high in saturated and trans fats should be very limited or avoided all together. Limiting saturated fat to 13 grams per day is a general recommendation. Look for the term ‘partially hydrogenated oil’ or ‘hydrogenated oil.’”

5.  Exercise. “It has pretty immediate benefits,” Curtis, the president of UBMD Internal Medicine, said. “It helps to lower blood pressure, it gives better physical capacity and many studies show the more physically fit you are, the better your health outcomes long term. It can take all shapes and sizes. Almost everyone can find some way to fit exercise in their day. Be mindful of the activity you’re doing in the day. Or use the buddy system to meet up and do something. Overall, watch your on-screen time and be aware that spending time doing that is sedentary. Sitting too much is not good for heart health.”

6.  Lose excess weight. “A lot of us need to lose weight,” said Curtis. “That’s a longer-term goal. Try to find the right methods. Sometimes the big resolutions, some can do but most can’t. Small changes, like what you eat for breakfast, how you snack during the day and being cognizant of calories. I don’t think too many people will be successful if they don’t incorporate both diet and exercise into their regimen.”

7.  Stay social. “People with a significant other, friends and social network all do better than people who don’t,” Curtis said. “If we’re too focused on connecting with people online, it hurts. Make more connections through work, social activities through volunteering. That all helps.”

8.  Imbibe only in moderation. “We all like a glass of wine or beer, but be aware you don’t do it to excess,” Curtis said. “Probably one glass of red wine a day doesn’t hurt, but I don’t think it helps. I think those who avoid it all together, it’s beneficial.”

9. Control health conditions. “How well you control, diabetes, cholesterol and other metabolic conditions affects heart health,” said physician Linda M. Harris, professor of surgery, program director of Vascular Surgery Residency & Fellowship at Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences at UB. “There are some people who are amazing with exercise and eating right but it’s in their genetics to have high cholesterol. For some it is diet, and for others, it’s a genetic issue and they need to take medications.”

10.  Monitor your health. “You should have regular check-ups with your primary care doctor,” Harris said.