5 Facts for Heart Health

As the holiday season quickly shifts into the New Year, many of us are likely looking to drop a few pounds and increase our overall health—and a recent study further enhances the importance of these endeavors.

According to research published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, there are five things men can do right now to reduce their risk of a heart attack—yet only 1 percent of the population follow all of these healthy lifestyle practices.

The list in itself isn’t that surprising—ditch the cigarettes, moderate alcohol use, exercise daily, eat a healthy diet, and keep belly weight in check—but what is surprising is how much these factors can influence the risk for heart problems. Throughout the 11-year study, the researchers discovered these five facts:

  1. Men who didn’t smoke lowered their risk by 36 percent
  2. Those who drank two or fewer alcoholic beverages per day had an 11 percent reduced risk
  3. Men who walked or cycled for 40 minutes or longer each day, plus engaged in at least 1 hour of other exercise per week, had a 3 percent lower risk
  4. Those who ate a diet rich in fruits, veggies, legumes, nuts, reduced-fat dairy, whole grains, and fish showed an 18 percent reduced risk
  5. Men who had a waist circumference below 37 inches reduced their risk by
    12 percent

For those men who followed all five practices, that adds up to a whopping 80 percent reduced risk for a heart attack.
And if you think women aren’t as affected by these lifestyle practices, think again: Numerous studies have linked these same practices to heart disease in women. In fact, a study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine found that of the four most common risk factors for heart disease—high BMI, smoking, high blood pressure, and physical inactivity—the latter proved to be the greatest risk factor among women older than age 30, and the researchers estimated that if every woman got the recommended amount of physical activity each week—about 150 minutes—more than 2,000 lives could be saved each year in Australia alone. Want to move your body toward better health? Try these ideas to gain a little inspiration and motivation.

//Download an app. It’s rare that we’re separated from our techy gadgets, so why wouldn’t we want to stay connected to our health as well? Interactive mobile health programs—many of them free to use—give you a space to record and monitor your health data, and some even offer advice, support, and reminders. For example, Text2Quit users can text to receive tips on quitting smoking, or wait to receive their personalized text messages throughout the day. It’s a convenient distraction for smokers trying to kick the habit, and a study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine found that Text2Quit users were about twice as likely to quit as those who only received a brochure in the mail or used online self-help materials. Another app we like, Nudge, acts like social media for the health-conscious. Users can compare their health and fitness scores to other Nudge users and social network friends, no matter which app, tracker, or wearable device they use. It syncs with other apps such as MapMyFitness, Moves, and Fitbit to provide one score that combines diet, exercise, and fitness inputs to measure how healthy you’re living. Users gain greater insight into their health by logging daily activities, such as fruit and veggie intake, exercise, and sleep.

//Drink and eat mindfully. Remember to eat before you drink alcohol—the fuller you are from food, the less you will be tempted to fill up on beer and cocktails. The food will also help absorb some of the alcohol so you will still be able to make sobering decisions about your food and beverage habits. It also helps to alternate between water and an alcoholic beverage. When it comes to dietary decisions, choose wisely—and focus on the aforementioned foods—but don’t be afraid to indulge occasionally. Having one hearty beer or one chocolate chip cookie is better than downing six light beers or mindlessly munching through an entire bag of pretzels.

//Make a schedule. Plan your meals, workouts, and extracurriculars so you don’t miss out on any of the things you want to do each week. To free up space in your schedule, grocery shop ahead of time and purposely cook enough to have leftovers. Try to work out in the mornings so you don’t have to hustle to the gym after work. Get into a routine and stick to it—even on days when it might seem easier to skip your run, sneak a cigarette, or binge on brownies for dinner. Over time, your healthy habits will feel like a natural part of your day.

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