Even today, heart disease is the leading cause of death for men and women in the United States, with 1 in 4 deaths caused by heart disease every year. But back in the 50’s and 60’s heart disease was even more lethal, hitting its peak in 1950. By 1964, President Johnson and the federal government knew something had to be done, and since that time American Heart Month has become one of the largest public and private joint efforts in all of history.
But despite all of the positives, heart disease remains one of those chronic diseases that tend to fly under the radar, with high blood pressure even being referred to as “the silent killer”. It’s something that’s seemingly easier for us to forget about, despite the constant barrage of information and reminders to take care of our health and our heart.
When you search the Internet and all of the information that organizations like the Mayo Clinic, the CDC, and others put out it’s not hard to find lots of tips about specific foods you can eat and basic tips to help take care of yourself. But among all of those resources, there are a few constants that show up.
Weight loss and heart health.
According to the Mayo Clinic, the #1 on their top tips to prevent heart disease? Control portion size. Go further down the list and you see things like prioritizing fruits and vegetables and limiting the amount of fat you take in. Why do these things work? The answer is two-fold. There’s evidence that limiting certain types of fat might help you take care of your ticker. But any experienced SU’er also knows just how surprising it is when we learn how many calories we’re actually taking in from fat when we start tracking our food intake. When we start limiting fat intake, that’s an easy way to limit extra calories that find their way into our diet.
And that brings us to an important point: genetics play a role in our health, but being overweight or obese puts serious additional strain on your heart. It forces your heart to work harder to move blood throughout the body and it can lead to more fat in the blood vessels forming plaque. Losing weight can have such a dramatic impact that Dr. E Dean Nukta says that “There is no doubt that just by losing 5 to 10 percent of your body weight, you can reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke.”
It’s not just weight loss. It’s fat loss.
Losing weight works for a number of reasons. It reduces the amount of work your heart is having to do with each pump, helps to clear the plaque that builds up in our blood vessels, and most surprisingly to some: losing weight helps us eliminate body fat that accumulates around our stomach and heart, which can increase our risk of heart disease compared to more evenly distributed body fat.
When it comes to heart health, waist measurements, in particular, tend to be a strong predictor of increased risk of heart disease. The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute says that “Women with a waist size greater than 35 inches and men with a waist larger than 40 inches are at higher risk for heart disease and Type 2 diabetes”
Learning to make smart choices.
So if you want to know where to start, it’s at the waist. Waist measurements aren’t the end-all-be-all of tracking progress, but waist measurement is tied to heart health. We’re big fans of tracking. Not just tracking your waist and weight, but also tracking your food intake. We believe by doing so teaches you more about where your food comes from, helps you prioritize health-supporting foods like lean protein, and fruits and vegetables.
That process of continually learning about our eating habits, seeing how we can make progress on the scale and measurements, and continually refining our approach teaches us a skill-set that we truly never forget. We learn what proper portions look like, we learn where hidden calories come from, and we develop the tools necessary to navigate the calorie-dense food landscape we deal with on a daily basis. It’s often said that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, and nowhere is that more clear than when we take time to learn how to properly eat to control our weight and take care of our heart.
So if you’re interested in losing weight, aren’t sure where to start, and want to learn more about how to track and get a rough idea of how much food you should be eating, this is a great place to start. And if you want to learn more about why learning to track our food intake can have such dramatic impacts on our health, this blog will be right up your alley.
Where does exercise factor in?
Exercising regularly is an ingredient in our heart health recipe that can’t be overlooked. Losing body fat and learning how to control your portions via tracking are great steps to building a healthier heart, as is exercise. But exercise doesn’t have to mean boot camps that leave you so sore you can’t walk.
When we’re talking about exercise and our health, don’t overcomplicate things. Find a form of exercise that you enjoy and make it a constant in your life. Zumba, running, pilates, yoga and lifting weights are all great ways to move your body, but they’re not the only ways. What matters is you find something you can stick to.
Hydrate hydrate hydrate!
You’ve got tracking your food and exercising regularly down. Now, for the last step, don’t forget to hydrate. Boring, sure. But adequate hydration is one of the most commonly overlooked aspects of heart health there is. Let’s not forget that our bodies are made of water and we need water to survive. When we don’t take in enough water, we feel it. Every bit of us. Including our hearts.
Hydration is an incredibly complex process, and if you want to read more about it in-depth and why it matters you can do so here. But for the purpose of this blog, what you need to know is that if you consistently aim for drinking about half your body weight in ounces of water, you’re going to be fine.
So what should your takeaway be?
We aren’t in the business of highlighting just one specific thing people should eat or pay attention to. We’ve worked with enough people by now to know that weight loss and improving our health is a multifactorial process. There’s hardly ever one specific tip or trick that someone could follow, and if there was, there’s a good chance the entire world would know about it.
Instead, what we should strive to understand is that when we’re talking about taking care of our heart, it’s not actually that different than other things like weight loss. It all comes down to the fundamentals. You know, those unsexy things that don’t make headlines but do work.
A few key fundamentals we believe in:
- Tracking your food intake
- Prioritizing lean protein + fruits and vegetables
- Move your body regularly
- Drink half your body weight in ounces of water
Those are time tested strategies that haven’t stopped working. Practicing these things regularly not only helps you look and feel better, it helps you live a longer and healthier life. So this February, pay a bit more attention to the foods you’re eating. Put a bit more care into managing your portions. Move your body. Drink plenty of water. And do those things often. And if you are interested in learning more about your own specific heart health, consult your Doctor.