The winter is a time of holiday celebrations, gathering with loved ones over mouthwatering comfort food and, of course, hibernating from the frigid cold. However, this season is also the most dangerous for the development of cardiovascular diseases, one of the leading killers among both men and women.
“The stakes are very high, and you need to be proactive,” says Dr. Thomas Johnson of M Health Fairview Clinic: Woodwinds. “It is crucial, because if you are not proactive, you might miss an opportunity to avoid a dramatic cardiac event.”
Though family genetic history plays a large role, you can take action to increase your heart health and decrease your risk through lifestyle changes, like exercise and diet, among other strategies.
“The No. 1 thing that someone can do to prevent such conditions is to live an active lifestyle,” says Dr. Mitchell Timmons of M Health Fairview Clinic: Woodwinds. “Living an active and healthy lifestyle can improve your mental health and overall quality of life.”
Single foods can’t make you instantly healthier, of course, but a consistent pattern of consumption can. Johnson suggests the Mediterranean diet as a means of heart-healthy eating.
This diet primarily consists of plant-based foods such as vegetables, fruits, whole grains, herbs, nuts and beans. Opting for natural sources and fresh seafood, this diet helps avoid processed foods, too.
How to make the switch:
- Eat seven to 10 servings of fruit and vegetables daily.
- Replace butter with olive oil as a healthy fat alternative.
- Eat whole grains.
- Switch red meat with seafood such as tuna, salmon, trout and herring.
- Enjoy dairy in moderation with low-fat Greek yogurt or small amounts of cheeses.
- Use fresh herbs in your roasted turkeys and hams this holiday season. This adds flavor and reduces the levels of sodium (vs. spice mixes).
Exercising is an important step toward living a happy and healthy lifestyle. Johnson explains that exercising on a regular basis helps regulate blood pressure, weight, blood sugar and cognitive function. “Exercise is free medication,” he says.
It is recommended that the average person exercises for a minimum of 30 minutes a day, or about 150 minutes a week.
Though this might seem like a lot to some, Timmons says that you must find a way to exercise that feels right to you, especially when you are just starting out. “It is hard to make huge changes abruptly and maintain those,” Timmons says. “Start small with low intensity.”
Choose an exercise that you thoroughly enjoy. Whether it’s playing a sport, yoga, a dance fitness class or even watching your favorite television program while on the treadmill, you essentially can “offset the discomfort with something that is more pleasant,” Johnson says.
But what to do when the weather prevents us from getting outside this season? Both Johnson and Timmons suggest doing something as simple as walking around large indoor malls or large stores, joining a local gym or purchasing your own equipment at home to get your steps in.
What to watch for:
Potential symptoms of heart disease include:
- Chest discomfort or chest tightness
- Shortness of breath; not being able do as much as you typically could
- Swelling in the legs
- Changes in your functional capacity (energy level)
- Irregular heartbeat
M Health Fairview Clinic: Woodwinds
1825 Woodwinds Drive