6 habits for a healthier heart

Most of us know that exercise improves your cardiac health — you get moving and your heart pumps more, which helps your heart remain strong. But what else can you do to improve your heart health?

A few years ago, the American Heart Association, or the AHA, created Life’s Simple 7: seven ways to improve your cardiac health. One of those seven is exercising more. Your PT can help you create an exercise regimen to help you get moving, in the best way for your particular body. Use our locator to find a Physiquality therapist in your neighborhood.

Here are the AHA’s six other ways to make your heart stronger and healthier.

 

  • Manage your blood pressure to keep your heart healthy.Manage your blood pressure.

 

High blood pressure, or hypertension, can put you at risk for a variety of health problems, especially heart and kidney failure, stroke and vascular disease.

It’s important to know in what range your blood pressure falls, as well as whether it’s consistent over time. Talk to your doctor about your blood pressure and whether it falls into a healthy range under the new hypertension guidelines that the AHA published with the American College of Cardiology last fall. If it doesn’t, while there are medicines to take for hypertension, your doctor will most likely advise some lifestyle changes to improve your blood pressure first: lower your sodium intake, eat more fruits and vegetables, reduce stress, and exercise more.

 

  • Control your cholesterol.

 

In the past, patients were simply told to watch their cholesterol levels, as it can lead to blocked arteries and stroke. Now we know that LDL cholesterol (“bad” cholesterol) is the type that leads to these build-ups, while “good” or HDL cholesterol actually cleans your arteries of plaque and build-ups. When your doctor runs blood tests, you usually get a report on both types of cholesterol, with the hopes that your HDL levels are higher than your LDL levels.

If you have high levels of LDL cholesterol, you may be able to lower it simply by eating a low-fat diet and monounsaturated fats, like olive or canola oil; others may need help with medication. Speak to your doctor about what cholesterol range is right for you, and how best to achieve it.

 

  • Lower your blood sugar levels.

 

Lower your blood sugar levels to help your heart.Your blood sugar level is literally the amount of sugar, or glucose in your blood. High glucose or blood sugar levels can be a sign of type 2 diabetes and can lead to nerve damage, kidney or eye problems, heart disease and stroke.

As with cholesterol, there are medications that can regulate your blood sugar, but for most people it is better to start by changing your eating habits. Eating more fruits and vegetables, drinking fewer sugary drinks, and filling up on high fiber foods are easy ways to reduce the amount of sugar you’re consuming.

 

  • Eat better.

 

The AHA notes, “A healthy diet is one of your best weapons for fighting cardiovascular disease. When you eat a heart-healthy diet, you improve your chances for feeling good and staying healthy — for life!”

The AHA nutrition recommendations aren’t anything new: Focus on fruits and vegetables, low-fat dairy products, whole grains, and chicken and fish, and avoid foods and drinks that are high on salt, fat or sugar – and low on nutrients. If you’re trying to change your habits, Harvard Medical School recommends adding one extra fruit or vegetable a day, or eating a handful of nuts as a snack in the afternoon.

 

  • Stop smoking.

 

Smoking is one of the worst things you can do for your health. It can lead to cardiovascular problems like stroke and coronary heart disease; respiratory illnesses like emphysema and chronic bronchitis; and cancer, not only in the lungs, but also throughout the rest of the body.

If you want to quit smoking, it can be hard to do it on your own. The AHA has plenty of resources to help you quite successfully.

 

  • physical therapy walking on treadmillLose weight.

 

While we know losing weight sounds easier than it usually is, it has been shown that having extra pounds on your frame causes stress on your heart, lungs, bones and even blood vessels. The good news is that by following the guidelines mentioned above — eating healthier foods, lowering your blood sugar levels, and, yes, exercising — people often lose weight.

Tags: ,

Cycling for better health

How are those resolutions coming? Are you cooking more at home? Have you seen your dentist (or at least made an appointment for your annual cleaning)?

If you’re looking for a way to increase your activity, cycling or bike riding is a great way to be active.

Anna Dark, the Fitness Director of the Take Charge Fitness Program (a wellness facility run by Physiquality member Clinton Physical Therapy Center in Tennessee), says that cycling has many health benefits. Cycling is an aerobic activity, which is great for your heart and circulation. Going for regular bike rides also increases muscle strength and flexibility, while also improving joint mobility and bone strength.

Cycling offers mental and emotional benefits that help you cope with stress.Like most exercise, cycling offers mental and emotional benefits that help individuals cope with stress, even when you’re on a stationary bike. “And cycling is a great way to enjoy the great outdoors, which in itself can help individuals feel better emotionally!” Anna adds.

If you’re serious about committing to regular bike riding, Anna recommends going to the local bike store to choose the proper bike. Consult with the staff about the type of bike that might be best for you, a road bike, mountain bike or a hybrid, based on where you’re planning to ride. And, adds Anna, they will make sure that your bicycle is properly fitted to your body.

You must have the proper equipment for bicycling.Anyone new to cycling must have the proper safety equipment if they will be riding outside, as they’ll be sharing the streets with cars, pedestrians and other bicyclists, reminds Anna. Your bike should be fully equipped with safety features like reflectors and flags in order to be visible, especially at night. Check the air in your tires regularly in order to keep them fully inflated. And make sure that you have the appropriate gear to protect yourself, including a helmet, reflective vest and gloves.

When you’re going out on the road, says Anna, be sure to choose a route that you’re familiar with. This will give you confidence while riding, making the ride less stressful. Stay alert and be aware of your surroundings, especially other motorists and traffic. And make sure to use hand signals to let others know where you’re going.

Lastly, have fun! Cycling allows you to enjoy the scenic route while bettering your health. And that’s something to celebrate.

How do you measure your fitness level?

Am I fit enough? Whether it’s a daily question, one we ponder before visiting with the doctor, or one we guiltily think before grabbing another cookie, this is a question many of us ask ourselves. Unfortunately, there’s not a simple answer, but Physiquality’s physical therapy professionals have some useful insights.

“How people measure their health and fitness depends on the person,” says Angela Manzanares, the creator of the fitbook™, a Physiquality partner. She warns against using numbers like BMI, or the body mass index, on their own, as they only take into account a person’s height and weight, not body composition. It’s possible to have low body fat and high muscle mass, and therefore a higher weight, Angela explains, which could categorize someone as overweight or obese when it’s really not the case.

It’s better to look at a variety of tests and think about both health and fitness, rather than simply your BMI or the number on your scale. Joy Winchester, HFS, from the Take Charge Fitness Program, a wellness facility run by Clinton Physical Therapy Center (a Physiquality network member in Clinton, Tennessee), recommends using a site like www.sparkpeople.com to test your fitness. The website has a variety of challenges that can be done at home to test your endurance, including one-minute push-up and crunch tests, a three-minute step test and a one-mile walk test. Each of the tests is simple to execute and requires little more than a stopwatch for timing, and maybe a friend to help keep count (or to keep you honest!). The site charts results by age and gender, ranging from “very poor” to “excellent,” giving you an idea of how your endurance ranks against others your own age.   See more