4 simple steps to a healthy heart
Start 2017 on a better beat with these top ways to prevent cardiovascular disease.
It’s not every day I get to stand on the field in Ohio Stadium on game day with The Best Damn Band in the Land. On Oct. 29, the day our Buckeyes battled and won against Northwestern, Ohio State launched a partnership with the Women’s Heart Alliance to teach our students how to battle heart disease.
During the pre-game show, I was honored to stand on the field with leaders of the Women’s Heart Alliance who had flown in from Washington, D.C., President Michael V. Drake and other health innovators from Ohio State. The band marched into the formation of a beating heart, and the announcer proclaimed, “As your heart pounds with excitement here in Ohio Stadium as we cheer our Buckeyes to victory, make a commitment to be heart healthy and Buckeye strong! Go Bucks!”
Meanwhile, students participated in free heart checks around campus to assess their risk of heart disease, making that commitment real.
You may be wondering if college students really need to worry about heart disease. The answer is “Yes!” Heart disease remains the No. 1 cause of death in America. Heart attacks and strokes kill more women than all cancers combined, yet 45 percent of women are uninformed about this disease and how it affects them differently from men.
Small steps, big benefits
The good news is that 80 percent of cardiovascular disease is preventable with four healthful behaviors: eating healthfully, managing stress, being active and avoiding tobacco.
You can commit today to protect your heart by asking your health care provider for a screening and adopting these four healthful lifestyle choices.
Take a walk, change your snacks
If that sounds difficult, take heart; you don’t have to join a gym to be active. A simple 30 minutes a day of walking is effective, and those minutes don’t have to be spent all at once. Take an apple or some carrot sticks with you as snacks, instead of sweet treats, and you’ve already made a significant move toward heart health. The beauty of these behaviors is that they reinforce each other: Fruits and vegetables give you more energy to move, and studies show that physical activity and healthful eating help reduce stress.
Most of us can’t change all the things that activate stress in our lives, but we can change how we respond to those activators and engage in behaviors to reduce our stress levels. Taking just a few minutes of time out for stress relief when you start to feel tense can make a world of difference. For example, taking five deep breaths, engaging in a couple minutes of mindful meditation, writing your thoughts down on paper to dump negativity or simply petting an animal can help you feel grounded again.
Use good habits to quit bad ones
Moving, eating better and reducing stress also can help smokers quit. The American Lung Association recommends taking part in swimming, jogging, brisk walking and other activities with which smoking doesn’t fit in. Healthful snacks such as carrots, fresh fruit and plain popcorn can be a good diversion. And if you’re increasing your activity and planning healthful meals and snacks for yourself to reduce heart disease risk, there’s no better time to quit smoking, too.
As we observe National Heart Health Month in February, help spread the word about how best to prevent heart disease and keep your heart healthy this winter — not only for yourself, but for the people you love who want you around for many years to come!
I wish you all a happy, healthy 2017 and hearts free of disease and full of joy.
Bernadette Mazurek Melnyk is the university’s chief wellness officer, vice president for health promotion and College of Nursing dean.