We all know that diet and exercise are the keys to a healthy body. What many of us neglect, however, are the keys to a healthy heart. As most firefighters know, cardiovascular health is essential to performing the physical demands of their job quickly and efficiently. Heart disease is the number one killer of on-duty firemen, likely due to the high stress levels involved along with the smoke and toxins they are exposed to on a regular basis. Whether or not you are a fireman however, you probably deal with a good bit of stress yourself. Kids, work, family and financial issues can all cause us stress, which can negatively impact our heart health. Add to that a poor diet and a lack of exercise, and it’s easy to see why heart disease is the number one killer of everyone in the US, firefighter or not.
While some of the tips for heart disease prevention are commonly known, such as not smoking, avoiding saturated fats and getting enough exercise, there are some that aren’t so obvious but also can improve your heart health. Here are a few heart-healthy tips that we can all benefit from.
- Just Breathe. Take a few minutes at the end of each day to take a couple deep breaths and do some light stretching. Not only will this help you to de-stress and relax after a long day, but studies have shown that stretching positively affects your heart rate variability, a key indicator of your heart health.
- Go Fish. You’ve probably heard by now of some of the benefits of omega-3 fatty acids. While there are no standard dosages of omega-3s recommended by the American Heart Association, it is a good idea to aim for two servings of fish per week. Fish that are high in omega-3s include cold water fish such as tuna, salmon, mackerel and sardines. Not a fish lover? Some other omega-3 rich foods are tofu, soybeans, flaxseed, and walnuts.
- Wine Down. This heart-healthy tip is my personal favorite. A glass of red a day can raise your HDL (good cholesterol) levels, decrease inflammation, and help prevent damage to your arteries. The recommended amount of wine per day is one serving (5 ounces) for women and no more than two for men. Not a fan of red wine? White wine, beer, and even liquor can also provide health benefits when consumed in moderation.
- Brush Your Teeth! It sounds crazy, but recent studies suggest that dental health and heart health are linked. The evidence isn’t yet clear, but people with periodontal disease are twice as likely to develop coronary artery disease. These same studies have shown that those with common mouth problems such as tooth decay and gingivitis were just as good at predicting heart disease as cholesterol levels. Just another good reason to remember to floss!
- Do Your Chores. Household activities such as mopping, sweeping, vacuuming, and scrubbing the toilet can burn up to 90 calories in half an hour; and we all know that physical activity reduces your risk of heart disease. So quit putting off those dreaded chores, and grab a broom. You’ll reap the benefits of a little added exercise, and have a clean house to boot!
- Train in intervals. If you’re used to the same old boring treadmill routine, try switching it up by alternating between short bursts of intense and light training. Sprint at 90-95% of your maximum heart rate (think a 9 out of 10 on a scale of intensity) for 30 seconds, then walk for 30 seconds, and repeat for 10 minutes. Not a fan of the treadmill? Interval training can also be done on a bike or elliptical. The result of this kind of training is an overall strengthening of your cardiovascular system.
A few additional tips worth mentioning are to check your family history and know your numbers. Have your doctor check your cholesterol, blood pressure, blood sugar, and triglyceride levels and know what is optimal for your own heart health. Know the symptoms of heart disease so that you can detect it early, and take steps to manage your stress and reduce your risk of developing the disease.