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Ring in a Heart-Healthy 2011

It happens every year. The holiday season arrives, and we get caught up in a whirl of shopping, socializing, eating and drinking. No time for working out…parties and treats…grabbing fast food on the run...sound familiar? Then, with January 1 on the horizon, we compensate with puritanical New Year's resolutions in an attempt to wash away our sins.

Make Your New Year's Resolutions Now!

Mark E. Josephson, MD

The fact that New Year's resolutions often follow a month of overindulgence is part of the reason they're so difficult to keep. How about taking a different approach this year? Make heart-healthy resolutions now, and you won't be approaching January first with dread and 10 extra pounds!

"We can't control all of the risk factors for heart disease, such as heredity and age," said Mark E. Josephson, MD, chief of the Division of Cardiovascular Medicine at BIDMC's CardioVascular Institute. "That makes it all the more important to resolve to do something about the factors we can control, like diet, fitness and smoking."

Recommendations from the American Heart Association

Need a little push in the right direction? Here's a solution-resolve to take steps toward a healthier heart, based on recommendations from the American Heart Association's "Life's Simple 7" program. These steps can help you launch a pattern of healthy living that will keep you and your heart in tip-top shape, through the holidays and into the New Year.

  1. I will eat better. Diet plays a big role in controlling risk factors. A heart-healthy diet features high-fiber foods like fruits and vegetables and whole-grains. Most of your protein should come from sources like legumes, fish, poultry and low-fat dairy. Be sure to include a small amount of healthy fats from sources like nuts and olive oil, and limit your salt intake.
  2. I will get active. The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends 30 minutes of physical activity such as walking on most days of week. Don't let this intimidate you; even 10-minute increments count!
  3. I will lose weight. Extra pounds put extra stress on your heart and increase the risk of high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes. For those who are overweight, especially those who have excess fat in the abdominal area, dropping a few pounds can make a difference. If you're overweight, even a 5-10 percent weight loss will impact risk factors.
  4. I will control my cholesterol. Cholesterol is a waxy substance found in your cells and bloodstream. You need it for good health, but many people's bodies produce too much, increasing their chances of heart disease or stroke. While most cholesterol is produced naturally by the liver and other cells, about 25 percent comes from food. This is the cholesterol that you can control by eating only moderate amounts of healthy fats from nuts, seeds, vegetable oils and fish and avoiding trans fats and saturated fats. Prescription drugs can lower cholesterol, too-ask your doctor's advice.
  5. I will manage my blood pressure. Hypertension is the most significant risk factor for heart disease, according to the AHA. It's called "the silent killer" because it has no symptoms and about 21% of those with high blood pressure don't know they have it. High blood pressure can stretch arteries, which can cause tiny tears and then scar tissue. This can lead to blockages, blood clots and hardened, weakened arteries. So, resolve to toss out the salt shaker, eat healthy, stay active, manage stress, limit alcohol and don't smoke. As a last resort, your doctor can provide a prescription to lower blood pressure as well.
  6. I will reduce my blood sugar. Most of the food we eat is turned into glucose or sugar, and the pancreas makes insulin to help glucose get into the body's cells. Insulin resistance can cause pre-diabetes and type 2 diabetes. Diabetes is treatable but increases the risk of heart disease and stroke. When insulin resistance or diabetes occurs with other risk factors (such as obesity, high blood pressure or cholesterol problems), the risk rises even more. If you already have diabetes, work with your doctor to manage it carefully. If not, stick to the lifestyle resolutions we've described above to decrease your chance of acquiring diabetes or related conditions.
  7. I will quit smoking. Smoking increases the risk of coronary heart disease. Smokers also have a higher risk of developing atherosclerosis, which can lead to coronary heart disease, heart attack and stroke. It's the most important preventable cause of premature death in the United States. But quitting rapidly improves your outlook for cardiovascular health. So do yourself a favor. If you smoke, quit now.

Need More Incentives to Start?

Be sure to check out the American Heart Association's Life's Simple 7™ Action Plan. The website's My Life Check heart-health assessment tool is a quick way to judge how well you're doing now and identifies simple, effective steps to improve your heart health and quality of life. The site then directs you to specific action plans that will help you to make the lifestyle choices and changes to bring you closer to your individual health goals.

"The truth is that cardiovascular disease claims more lives each year than all combined deaths from cancer, chronic lower respiratory diseases and accidents," said Josephson. "The good news is that regular exercise and maintaining a healthy weight and diet can improve those risk factors faster than you think. Remember, it's also important to see your primary care physician for an annual physical to give you a clear picture of your health and fitness levels."

Don't drop the ball on your heart health before New Year's. Follow our suggestions for a healthier holiday season and, come January 1, your heart health resolution will already be conquered! Then you can worry about more pressing matters-like tackling all those holiday returns.

Above content provided by Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. For advice about your medical care, consult your doctor.

Posted December 2010