You’ve been cutting back on eating cholesterol-rich foods, but can you do more to reduce the risk factors for heart disease? Yes, there is lots you can do, according to leading health experts. “Swap a plant-based protein for an animal-based one, one day at a time,” suggests Registered Lon Ben Asher of the Pritikin Center. But, there is so much more to tell you about than simple ways to lower your cholesterol! Job stress, sleep, exercise, and other everyday things are influencing your heart health. Don’t worry – it’s easier than you think to start living a heart-healthy lifestyle! Here are 7 simple habits to reduce your risk factors. Pritikin can help – a stay here can transform your life.
1. Breathe for a Healthy Heart
Slow, deep breaths can influence your heart rate and blood flow in beneficial ways, says science. The simple advice to “take a deep breath” has been shown in studies to reduce anxiety, lower blood pressure, and improve blood sugar which are all important factors in heart disease.
“I feel like potentially it saved me from doing more harm.”
— Whitney K., Pritikin Member
2. Sleep Improves Heart Health
Do you get the recommended 7 hours of sleep for optimal health? Most of us don’t. Research has linked sleep with heart disease. Make sleep a priority – it’s a healthy habit. Getting enough sleep was associated with a lower chance of heart trouble in a study of over 10,000 adults, with the lowest risk amongst those who slept about 8 hours. Staying up late may also be a concern. Going to bed after midnight was linked with a 25% higher risk of heart disease than in those who fell asleep between 10 and 11 pm, in a study published in the European Society of Cardiology. “Sleep is devalued in our society,” says Pritikin Center’s Medical Director Dr. Danine Fruge. She cautions that a lack of sleep will show up on your medical lab reports and the scale increasing your risk of health problems.
3. Exercise is Good for Your Heart
Moving more is backed by science to help the heart. Exercise helps reduce blood sugar and unhealthy fats in the blood, as well as lowers blood pressure. Physical activity is even called a non-pharmaceutical option of treatment, by science. Controlling blood pressure can help decrease the incidence of stroke and heart failure. “If you’re having a hard time exercising, it’s important to see if there is a block there, something emotional…we can help you with that,” explains Dr. Samantha Behbahani, Clinical Psychologist at the Pritikin Center. Small groups of guests join Dr. Behbahani in fun sessions where they can explore common hurdles and find tools and confidence about making healthy changes in their lives.
9 Fun Ways to Be More Physical Active
Adults should get 150 minutes per week of moderate to vigorous physical activity. Here are some ideas to spark your excitement to move more and sit less:
- Brisk walk
- Hike with a friend
- Muscle-strengthening activities (weights)
- Try Geocaching
- Play active video games
- Sports (kayaking, cycling, basketball)
- Jogging in a charity run
4. Maintain a Healthy Blood Pressure
Reducing your intake of salt (limit processed foods and dining out), eating more whole foods, and increasing physical activity are natural ways that are scientifically proven to help achieve and maintain healthy blood pressure. If you are currently taking blood pressure medications, it is important to work closely with your professional health care provider who can monitor your health and help with any required changes to medication as you adjust your lifestyle habits. Want some one-on-one support? Guests are supported throughout their stay at the Pritikin Center by physicians, which include cardiologists.
Foods to Avoid for High Blood Pressure, and What to Eat Instead
A high sodium diet is linked with high blood pressure. The following foods are high in sodium, with what health experts say to try instead:
- Premade Soup (try homemade soup)
- Bacon, cold cuts, ham, sausages (try beans, tofu)
- Frozen breaded meats & fish (try unbreaded options)
- Salted nuts and pretzels (try unsalted options)
- Salad dressing (try homemade dressings)
- Vegetable juice (try water and whole vegetables)
- Condiments (try homemade versions, or use less)
- Broths (try reduced-sodium broths)
- Canned vegetables (try frozen vegetables)
5. Limit Alcohol
Moderate drinking is described as one drink a day for women, and two per day for men, according to the Center for Disease Control. High blood pressure, heart disease, and stroke are among the potential long-term health risks of a lifestyle that does not limit alcohol.
6. Reduce Stress: It is Linked to Increased Risk of Heart Disease
Learning healthy ways to cope with stress is a vital element of a heart-healthy lifestyle, according to research. A study of over 100,000 individuals found higher rates of death from heart disease among men with job strain than those without. The risk of job strain on heart health was independent of other conventional and lifestyle factors. Standard care isn’t likely to mitigate mortality risk-taking steps to manage stress is important. “Chronic anxiety can lead a person to develop unhealthy coping strategies, such as seeking alcohol or other substances and comfort foods as a way to suppress the anxiety,” says Kristen Farrell Turner, Ph.D., a psychologist and educator at Pritikin, in an interview with The Beet.
11 Tips to Better Manage Work Stress
- Include short breaks for relaxation and recovery
- Schedule time for enough sleep
- Bust stress with exercise
- Incorporate calming practices in your day (meditation, yoga)
- Socially connect for support and to disconnect from work
- Establish boundaries
- Learn to relax (take time to focus on breathing each day)
- Get support (boss, co-workers, counselor)
- Focus on problem-solving
- Set realistic goals
- Try time blocking
7. Avoid Added Sugar to Improve Heart Health
High cholesterol is usually addressed with a low-fat diet but that’s not the best way to lower cholesterol, cautions Dr. Danine Fruge, Medical Director at the Pritikin Center. Sugar is a sneaky cholesterol elevating culprit. “…the way sugar is metabolized, by anyone who has any belly fat at all, which is almost all of us, [sugar] will eventually turn up as cholesterol in blood work,” explains Dr. Fruge. One of the best ways to lower cholesterol is to avoid sugar. Sugar hides in all sorts of convenience foods, such as sugary beverages, candy, baked treats, prepared sauces, salad dressings, and processed and packaged convenience foods). “My lifestyle was good about going to the gym and working out, but my eating habits were bad (high in sugar), and was a cause of concern on my blood work – I found my cholesterol was really high,” explains Whitney of Dallas, Texas about her coming for a stay at the Pritikin Center in Miami, Florida.
What are the Signs of an Unhealthy Heart?
Most early signs of an unhealthy heart are undetectable, such as high cholesterol, or blood pressure. Regular doctor visits may check for cholesterol and blood pressure, but there are other signs that are important to watch for. Soft plaques that don’t show up on CT scans are worrisome compared to calcium plaques, making non-invasive tests, such as a carotid artery screening important in assessing the health of your heart. It’s also important to check your blood sugar, as unstable levels can increase your risk of cardiometabolic diseases, such as insulin resistance. “An HbA1c blood test will tell you if you have prediabetes or diabetes,” explained Dr. Danine Fruge, Medical Director at the Pritikin Center explained in a CNET interview. During a stay at the Pritikin Center, you can get an in-depth understanding of your current heart health. It starts with a 40-minute one-on-one private consultation with a physician, such as Dr. Fruge, that includes a comprehensive blood panel as part of the Longevity Program. The Cardiovascular Imaging and Evaluation Package is available and popular for guests concerned with their heart health.
“I chose Pritikin over other places because it integrates the medical with food and fitness… and psychology too, which I think is huge.”
– Whitney K., Pritikin Member
Fastest Way to Lower Cardiovascular Risks
Three factors are required for a healthy heart: nutrition, fitness, and mindset. After you visit with your Pritikin physician, you can start learning the skills to reduce risk factors. Dining on gourmet food you’ll transform your palate making healthy eating fun, while cooking classes make it easy to prepare your own upon your return home. The exceptional series of lectures help you learn strategies to help you with stress management to mindful eating. Meanwhile, personal trainers help you find movements that optimize your strength and flexibility, without pain. Through the variety of exercise programs available at the Center, physical activity converts into something you desire to fit into your routine.