Every day is the right day to stop and think about your heart health. Especially considering close to 6.2 million Americans experience heart failure, it's important to stay on top of the risk factors and know the symptoms. Heart failure occurs when your heart is unable to pump a sufficient amount of oxygen and blood to your organs. There are certain conditions that could trigger heart failure, such as coronary artery disease, obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes, and even sleep apnea, according to the American Heart Association. If you want to prevent heart failure, staying physically fit is key, in addition to a few other expert-backed tips.
We spoke with Dr. Mike Bohl, MD, MPH, CPH, MWC, ELS, a member of the Eat This, Not That! Medical Expert Board about the daily habits fit people are already doing in order to maintain a healthy heart and prevent heart failure. He informs us of several tips to help you step up your game—you'll want to listen carefully to what he has to say. Read on to learn more, and next up, be sure to check out The 6 Best Exercises for Strong and Toned Arms in 2022, Trainer Says.
"Many of the tips to help prevent heart failure are the same tips you often hear regarding how to stay healthy in general," Dr. Bohl says. "These include exercising, maintaining a healthy weight, eating a healthy diet, limiting alcohol consumption, and refraining from smoking."
Seems simple enough, right? Dr. Bohl adds, "If you have any medical conditions that may impact the heart, such as high blood pressure or diabetes, it's important to keep these well controlled by taking medications as prescribed."
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Many fit people spend much less time sedentary and more time getting up and active. Dr. Bohl explains to us the meaning of non-exercise activity thermogenesis, or NEAT. "NEAT is the amount of energy your body uses for physical activity that isn't structured exercise," he says. These are activities such as household chores, walking your pup, cleaning, doing yard work, and whatever else that requires some movement. He adds, "NEAT increases the number of calories you burn each day, which can help you maintain a healthy weight, which in turn can help prevent heart problems."
Fit people opt for the steps rather than the elevator, and they may take a walk around the office, house, or outside while talking on the phone. Another healthy habit to work into your daily routine is to use a standing desk rather than sitting at a desk, as well as purchasing a walking pad so you can walk as you type, read, or take notes. It's pretty easy to keep one stored underneath your desk. The last deviation in routine that fit people do is to park at the opposite end of any lot as a simple way to crank up daily steps.
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As long as you are performing your physical fitness in a safe manner, there's also no specific age when you should lower your amount of exercise for fear of putting too much strain on your heart. Dr. Bohl stresses that working out when you are an older adult should improve your heart health, not hurt it.
"Exercising is definitely still healthy (and recommended) for older adults—in fact, exercise recommendations are the same for older adults as for younger adults, except that older adults should also add balance training (such as standing on one leg) into their routine," he says.
As far as balance training is concerned, the American Council on Exercise (ACE) recommends adding a leg swing, ball toss, an arm reach, and any arm or leg movements while you're standing on one leg.
Being able to recognize the symptoms of heart failure is crucial. Symptoms can include shortness of breath, weight gain, fatigue, a constant cough, swollen legs and ankles, nausea, loss of appetite, and more. "There are many different types of heart issues and not all of them have obvious symptoms," Dr. Bohl notes.
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Dr. Bohl stresses, "It's important to regularly see a healthcare provider for check-ups. Getting your blood pressure checked, getting a blood test for your cholesterol, and having a healthcare provider listen to your heart and lungs and do a physical exam are easy ways to catch potential heart problems early." He adds, "If you are diagnosed with an issue, it's important to take any medication you're prescribed as directed, plus engage in any recommended lifestyle modifications (e.g., getting more exercise and eating a healthy diet)."
While on the subject of a healthy diet, Dr. Bohl tells us, "Eating habits to prevent heart failure are the same as any other healthy eating habits. This includes eating lots of fruits and vegetables, limiting excess carbohydrates and sugars, and avoiding highly processed foods."
Keep in mind that if you've already experienced heart failure, it could be beneficial to keep a diet that's low in salt. Limit your sodium (salt) to less than 1,500 mg. on a daily basis, which is the standard. Dr. Bohl explains this will help to reduce the amount of fluid that's stored in your body as well as your blood pressure.
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