Five things New Yorkers Can Do to Improve their Heart Health Right Now
Many young and middle aged adults do not take precautions around heart disease seriously since most cardiovascular health issues arise after 65. Yet, As many as 10% of all heart attacks occur before age 45, mostly affecting men. Regardless of age, cardiovascular disease (CVD) remains the leading cause of death in the United States, and in New York state, where 40% of all deaths were attributed to CVD in 2014.
As it is American Heart Health month, our cardiologist Kiruthika Balasundaram, MD weighed in with recommendations on what New Yorkers can do right now to help prevent heart disease.
Below are five great tips that you can begin today. Some of them you may have heard before, but as heart disease remains a critical issue for the health of NYers and Americans, we believe reminders are important.
Let’s begin here:
1. Get your legs on
The more active you are, the more you decrease your risk of heart disease. As a rough guideline, the American Heart Association recommends
- 150 (2 1/2 hours) minutes of moderate intensity aerobic activity per week or
- 75 (1 hr 15 min) minutes of vigorous intensity aerobic activity per week
Let’s dig into this a little deeper.
What is aerobic activity?
Essentially, aerobic activity [or ‘cardio’] is a type of exercise or activity that uses aerobic metabolism – meaning that oxygen is heavily involved in providing the energy that your body needs to perform the activity. So, since the heart is what pumps oxygenated blood to the rest of your body, when you do aerobic exercise, you are exercising your heart. And the heart, like any other muscle, needs to exercise to stay strong and healthy. Aerobic activity will raise your heart rate, and make you breathe faster and feel warmer.
What is anaerobic activity?
Just fyi, anaerobic activity, which is the other type of exercise, involves using the body’s stored energy sources rather than oxygen to fuel itself. So while this may help with losing weight, it does not exercise the heart directly as much [although it does help a bit]. Most commonly, exercising with weights falls in this category.
Examples of aerobic activity.
If you’re doing aerobic activity at a moderate intensity level you can likely still talk, but not sing. Examples of this type of activity include:
- a brisk walk
- riding a bike
If you’re working at a vigorous level, you probably won’t be able to say more than a few words without pausing for breath. Examples of these types of activity include:
- climbing the stairs in your building or subway
- riding a traditional or stationary bike fast
- cardio pilates
- playing tennis
- swimming fast
Try to find an activity you enjoy rather than dread to help stay consistent (such as some New Yorker favorites: Sky Ting Cardio yoga, The NW™ method, Dogpound boxing, and Peloton). As a side note, any activity is better than none, so you can even do short bursts of activity – every minute counts. And lastly, remember to increase the amount and intensity of your activity gradually over time. Rome wasn’t built in a day!
2. Eat natural
Foods you should eat for a heart healthy diet include everything fresh.
Eat more fresh fruit, fresh vegetables, and fresh fish.
The corollary here is less processed food, less preservatives, less canned food and less ready-made, pre-packaged meals. Most of these are loaded with tons of salt and likely lots of unhealthy fats as well. The more fresh food you include in your diet, the less space you’ll have for processed, unhealthy foods.
Some heart healthy foods include:
- Leafy greens such as spinach and kale
- Fiber-rich grains such as brown rice, oats, and quinoa.
- Berries rich in antioxidants
- Fatty fish such as salmon and mackerel
- Walnuts, almonds and seeds
Limit fatty cuts of meat and processed meat such as sausage and bacon.
3. Water, water, water.
The range varies, but on average, an adult woman should be drinking about 2.5-3.5 liters a day (85-100 oz or 10-14 cups), and an adult male should be drinking 3.5-4 liters a day (118-135 oz or 14-17 cups). Making it part of your daily routine helps: one or two cups in the morning as soon as you wake up, with each meal, and at night before you go to sleep. Another great way to do this is to find a 1 liter bottle and refill it 3-4 times a day based on your needs. And remember that you need to increase your fluid intake based on exercise, hot weather and your overall health – if you are sick you likely need to drink more. Also, this specifically refers to your water intake, soda does not count. Juices are alright but do be mindful of the amount of sugar juice can contain. Water really is your best bet – you can even add in different ways to make water a little more exciting, such as lemon, mint, or fruits.
4. Sleep well
Good sleep hygiene is paramount. Trying to get 8 hours a night will help your physical, mental and emotional well-being. I cannot stress this enough. Read this article from our primary care provider, Lara Trevino, AGNP-C, MSN on how to identify your ideal sleep routine.
5. Know yourself.
Ask your family about any potential risk factors that run in the family. This includes:
- people dying at an early age from heart disease [less than 55 for a man or 65 for a woman]
- people dying suddenly from a heart attack or unexplained causes
- someone with an aneurysm
Check in with a doctor every year or two to evaluate your heart health. Make sure you get your blood pressure checked annually, and that you get screened for diabetes. These are all diseases that if caught early can be well–controlled, thus minimizing any potential negative long-term impact they could otherwise have. And please do listen to your body. If something doesn’t feel right, ask your doctor or speak to a specialist. You know your body best.
I would like to end with a few caveats:
- There is no one size fits all. Just because a diet or type of exercise worked for someone, that doesn’t mean it will work for you
- Don’t overthink it. Try not to focus on a target heart rate or zone, or your calorie intake.
- Lastly, be kind to yourself. Changing existing habits and incorporating new ones takes time. Be patient, and have faith that as long as you are doing/trying to do the right things, you will eventually reap the benefit.
Dr. Balasundaram is a practicing cardiologist at The Health Center at Hudson Yards. To inquire on an appointment, please contact our Personal Health Navigators by chat through the member portal or by calling 646.819.5100.
The Health Center at Hudson Yards is a membership-based multi-specialty practice at 55 Hudson Yards. For more information on membership, visit our membership page.
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