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Tuesday, Feb. 6, 2024

5 Ways to Love Your Heart

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Taking the first step is the best step

We have all heard the list of what leads to a healthy heart: eating well, exercising, avoiding smoking, maintaining a normal weight, regular visits with your health care provider, etc. But how do we actually get these things done? Let’s get real about busy schedules, dinnertime, dreading exercise and your heart.

Strategy No. 1: Eating Well with a Hectic Schedule

Everyone is busy these days. Between work, laundry, getting your kids to their activities and squeezing in time with friends, it is difficult to find time to cook a heart healthy meal. Cooking low-salt, low-saturated fat meals at home is ideal, and we should be doing that as much as we can. But what happens when we can’t? We end up in the fast-food line with a greasy burger or fried chicken, and these are accompanied by fries and a soda. Turns out, most fast-food chains offer salads! Not all these salads are “healthy,” but most are better than the alternatives. If you are not a salad eater, go for something grilled instead of fried. Skip the fries or choose a different side if something non-fried is available; many places offer fruit cups, yogurt, soups or granola bars. If you’re just craving a potato, try a place that offers baked potatoes.

Strategy No. 2: How to Get Moving

If you don’t exercise, it can be hard to get started. The key is to build up your routine slowly. Don’t go from nothing to Zumba five days a week. This is a recipe for fatigue and injury, sidelining your exercise efforts.

Where to start depends on how active you are.

If you sit most of your day, start by standing up every hour and doing toes raises or walking up and down a flight or two of stairs in your office or at home. You may think,

“That only takes me three minutes. It can’t be helping.” But three minutes, seven times a day adds up to 21 minutes of exercise for the day – not too shabby. Set an alarm! If you are anything like me, you get sucked into your workday. Before you know it, three hours have passed, and you’re still at your desk.

If you move around a good bit during your day, step it up a bit. Try some light weights, stretching, or crunches while you watch your favorite TV show. This is a foolproof trick if you dread exercise. Nothing makes 30 minutes fly by like watching your favorite show.

Multiply that by seven days a week, and you’re moving over 200 minutes a week!

As you become more physically fit, continue to increase the intensity as you are able.

Strategy No. 3: Putting Down the Cigarettes… or Vape Pen

Many studies have shown that vaping is bad for the heart and just as addictive as cigarettes. Why? Nicotine. Whether nicotine is smoked or vaped, it has the same effects on the heart – increased blood pressure and heart rate. This puts wear and tear on the heart and leads to heart disease, including heart attacks. Of all the things needed for a healthy heart, this is the hardest one for most people to change. So, if you currently do not smoke or vape, don’t start! If you do smoke or vape, know that it may take several attempts before you can quit for good. This is hard; don’t give up. Numerous options for quitting are available, and your health care provider can help. Create a personalized plan to quit at https://smokefree.gov/build-yourquit-plan. Louisiana also has free resources to help you quit at https://quitwithusla.org/.

Strategy No. 4: Maintaining Weight – You May Need More

Many people maintain a healthy weight after improving their diet and exercise. This weight loss happens slowly, over many months – even years. Losing 1-2 pounds a week is good progress. Remember, the weight didn’t appear over a month, and it won’t go away over a month either. Slow and steady wins this race. However, if diet and exercise do not lead to weight loss, you may need additional help from your health care provider in the form of medication. Some medical conditions make it even harder to lose weight. Examples are diabetes, depression, low thyroid function and sleep apnea.

Talk to your medical doctor (MD), doctor of osteopathy (DO), physician associate (PA), or nurse practitioner (NP) about what else could help.

Strategy No. 5: Getting an Appointment

Sometimes it can be difficult to get a timely doctor’s appointment. Wait times can be months down the road, or insurance may be an issue. Don’t let these barriers stop you from getting the health care you need. Find someone who can see you in a timely manner and will accept your insurance plan. PAs and NPs are qualified, licensed health care providers who typically do not have long waitlists, although this does depend on the practice. Choosing to see a PA or NP may drastically reduce the wait time for your appointment and get you on your heart-health journey sooner.

Don’t make your heart wait! Show it some love today by trying out these simple strategies for increasing your heart health.

Rebecca Clawson, DMSc, PA-C, is an assistant professor of Physician Assistant Studies at LSU Health Shreveport School of Allied Health Professions.

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