Protect Your Heart

This year, more than half a million Americans will die as a result of heart disease. Sadly, a good portion of them will be younger than age 65, and their disease could have been prevented through changes in health habits.

Small changes can make a big difference in your heart health. Below are 28 suggestions to get you started:

1. Schedule a checkup.
2. Check the sodium levels in your foods. Shoot for 1,500 mg or less today (and every day).
3. Do a few push-ups and abdominal crunches before you leave for work.
4. If you use tobacco, try a day off and plan a reward for your success.
5. Turn grocery shopping into exercise-park far from the door, do abdominal flexes while standing in line, load your own groceries, use cans and cartons for arm curls while putting away your groceries.
6. Set yourself up for successful sleep—eight hours.
7. Cut your food portions by 10 percent. Even if you cut 10 calories each day, in one year you would lose a pound. In 10 years, that’s 10 pounds.
8. Even a few minutes of deep breathing each day can lower stress.
9. Count your blessings. Positive emotions are linked with better health.
10. Eat an extra serving of fruit today. It’s good for your heart, your brain and your bowels.
11. Take a walk. Even 10 minutes is beneficial.
12. Go for nuts. Try some walnuts, almonds, etc.
13. Connect with a friend. Close relationships can reduce your risk level.
14. Choose a lean meat, fish or poultry serving. Note the serving sizes. For example, a healthy serving of chicken is the size of a computer mouse.
15. Take the stairs today. Maybe it will become a habit.
16. Measure your waist. Make it your goal to stay below 35 inches for women, or 40 inches for men.
17. Try an extra serving of veggies (not battered and deep-fried).
18. Take a day off from television and move instead.
19. Try a fast food fast. Bring your own lunch to work.
20. Eat a healthy breakfast. Breakfast skippers have a higher likelihood of heart disease.
21. Stretch at your desk, in the shower, at the club, anywhere.
22. Read labels and measure your cholesterol intake. Stay under 300 mg/day, or 200 mg if you are at high risk for heart disease.
23. Pay attention to serving sizes for fats and oils. Read the labels and eat no more than three servings per day.
24. Try an exercise you haven’t done before.
25. Get some dairy. Opt for low-fat or fat-free.
26. Move. Throughout the day, think of new ways you can incorporate activity.
27. Try a day with no processed foods. This could be challenging.
28. Buy a pedometer and challenge yourself to get more steps during the day.

Miss a day? Celebrate your successes, not your failures. The point is that you begin to enjoy taking care of yourself.

Denise Pinkney is an editor in the Communications department at Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Dakota.