4 heart health promises you can make to yourself

World Heart Day is September 29. What promises can you make to yourself to ensure a heart-healthy future is ahead? Let’s take a look at a few.

The heart — it’s a relatively small organ in the body with a significantly large impact. This organ pumps blood throughout the circulatory system, providing the body and its organs with essential oxygen and nutrients.

With the heart playing a such a big role in your overall health and body function, doesn’t it make sense to treat it with the best of care?

And yet, in many cases, the heart takes a beating.

Heart disease is the leading cause of death among American adults. In fact, more than 610,000 people die of heart disease each year — that’s one in four deaths.

While some cases of heart disease and heart-related issues are genetic or caused by factors beyond our control, many heart health risk factors are controllable. That means we can take steps to keep our heart functioning at its best.

In honor of World Heart Day this year, why not take steps toward optimal heart health? Let’s take a look at four promises you can make to yourself.

Heart health promise No. 1: Get to — and maintain — a healthy weight.

Excess weight is a significant contributor to heart disease and many other chronic diseases. And as Americans have become more overweight and obese on the whole, heart disease has increased as well.

So, what constitutes a healthy weight? While for years doctors used body mass index (BMI) as the standard for determining whether someone’s weight is an issue, that’s no longer definitively the case.

Instead, talk with your doctor about the right target weight for you. This will vary somewhat depending on your height, activity level, bone structure, gender and age. In general, doctors today often look at measures like waist circumference as a more accurate depiction of whether you’re at a healthy weight.

Need to lose some weight to get in the healthy range? Your best strategy is a balanced diet and regular physical activity. That brings us to the next heart health promises.

Heart health promise No. 2: Get active.

Experts recommend that adults get at least 150 minutes of moderate physical activity each week. That breaks down to just over 20 minutes a day.

While that seems like such a small amount, few Americans actually hit that target.

Protect your heart health by incorporating more activity into your everyday life. Don’t have time to regularly get to the gym? That’s fine — put on your walking shoes and head out for a brisk walk.

Can’t even fit in a walk? Take frequent breaks during your workday and walk up and down the stairs at work or around the hallways. Park further away from the store and walk to the door.

There are always ways to incorporate more exercise into your day — and the more the better when it comes to your heart health.

Heart health promise No. 3: Eat more plants.

There’s a famous quote that says, “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”

While it might seem funny, that’s a promise you can make to your heart health!

Fill your plate with plenty of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins (both non-meat and meat varieties), and a small amount of healthy fats. Can’t visualize what a healthy diet contains?

Here’s an easy rule of thumb: Mentally divide your plate into fourths. Two-fourths (one-half) of your plate should be filled with fruits and vegetables. One-fourth of your plate should contain whole grains, while the other one-fourth should contain some type of lean protein.

Eating a balanced diet that’s largely plant-based will help you maintain a normal blood pressure, healthy cholesterol levels and avoid diabetes.

Heart health promise No. 4: Stop smoking.

This may seem like a no-brainer for your overall health, but smoking cessation is especially impactful for your heart health.

Smoking is the single most preventable cause of death in the United States — and it’s a risk factor for heart disease. But what exactly does it do to the heart?

When you smoke, the chemicals in tobacco damage the blood cells, the heart and the blood vessels. All that damage increases your risk of developing atherosclerosis, which occurs when plaque builds up in the arteries.

Eventually that plaque cuts off the flow of oxygen-filled blood to the organs. And if this occurs in the arteries of the heart, heart disease can occur.

Take a major step toward better heart health by quitting smoking. Talk with your doctor about a smoking cessation strategy that will work best for you, and then put it into action! Want to get started today? Sign up for our Smoking Cessation Courses.

Alison Bailey, MD is a noninvasive cardiologist at Erlanger Health System. She currently directs Erlanger’s Cardiovascular Diseases Fellowship Program and sees patients in the General Cardiology and Prevention Clinic as well as the Heart Failure and Hypertension Clinics.

When it comes to your heart, we can make a promise to you: The most advanced treatment options available anywhere in the world right here at home. Learn more about the region’s only academic cardiopulmonary center, the Erlanger Heart and Lung Institute, here.