Placing emphasis on our health is imperative to our well-being. Today it seems that everywhere we turn, we are being bombarded with advice and the resources to gain knowledge are endless so it is hard to really know what advice to follow. Do a search on the internet for healthy lifestyle, for example, and you will see about 220 million web pages returned containing everything from foods to avoid to how to rid the body of cellulite to ads for the local grocery store. It is a daunting number, to say the least.
Every year millions of dollars are spent on medical costs, and billions of dollars are lost in wages due to conditions like heart disease, stroke, cancer and diabetes. And while a healthy lifestyle doesn’t guarantee that a person will never have a health problem, even modest improvements to one’s health will make a big difference. The very definition of what makes up a healthy lifestyle is different to different people, and with so much information available, how does one simplify what it means to maintain a healthy lifestyle? The American Heart Association has a way: Life’s Simple 7® program.
The seven principles that make up Life’s Simple 7® are: Get Active, Control Your Cholesterol, Eat Better, Manage Your Blood Pressure, Lose (or maintain a healthy) Weight, Reduce Blood Sugar and Stop Smoking. While some of these, like get active and stop smoking, are easy to understand, for many people understanding how to control cholesterol or reduce blood sugar may need a bit more explanation. For a complete breakdown of the recommendations from the American Heart Association, click here to visit the Life’s Simple 7® webpage).
Get Active: Exercising for as little as 30 minutes a day reduces the risk of heart disease. The American Heart Association recommends at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise or at least 75 minutes of vigorous exercise to maintain good health. Anything that gets your heart pumping or builds strength is good for you. Choose something you enjoy and you’ll stick with it.
Control Cholesterol: The key to cholesterol control lies in understanding that there are two types of cholesterol, HDL and LDL, and that cholesterol comes from two sources: our bodies and our food. When too much bad (LDL) cholesterol is in the blood, it can clog your arteries and increase the chance of heart attack and stroke. It is important to know your cholesterol levels and keep them under control.
Eat Better: Making the right food choices affect our health in great ways. Choose vegetables and fruits that are high in fiber, whole grains, and low fat dairy when making food choices. Aim for two servings of fish a week and when choosing meats, pick lean and skin-free meats and poultry, and by all means, stay away from any label that includes the words partially hydrogenated.
Manage Your Blood Pressure: High blood pressure is the number one cause of heart disease and uncontrolled high blood pressure can be very dangerous. Talk to you doctor, know your numbers and if needed, take steps to improve them. (For a more in-depth look at blood pressure, please click here.)
Lose Weight: This is a hard one for many people. In fact, in the US, about two-thirds of people over the age of 20 are overweight or obese. That is a huge number. Obesity is now recognized as a major risk factor for heart disease so knowing your Body Mass Index (BMI) and losing weight, or maintaining a healthy weight, is imperative to your overall well being.
Reduce Your Blood Sugar: Diabetes is one of the six major controllable risk factors for heart disease and adults with diabetes are two to four times more likely to suffer from a heart attack or stroke than those without diabetes. It is critical to know if you are at risk for diabetes and for those who have diabetes to keep it in check. Talk to your doctor and have regular check-ups and blood work.
Stop Smoking: Ok, by now this should seem like a no-brainer. Smoking is the number one, most preventable cause of premature death in the US. The risks are great and varied. If you smoke, stop. If you need help quitting, there are many resources available today.