Get heart healthy: Small steps make a big difference
Heart disease remains the leading cause of death for both men and women in the United States. According to the Centers for Disease Control, about 715,000 Americans have a heart attack and about 600,000 people die from heart disease each year. That’s one out of every four deaths.
Such factors such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, obesity, diabetes, smoking, poor diet, physical inactivity, excessive alcohol use, poor stress management and even gum disease all increase the risk of developing heart disease. But even small lifestyle changes can lower the risk of heart disease by as much as 83 percent. So there’s hope.
Businesses in our community this month are beginning the Healthy Hearts Challenge, a six-week program designed to get employees on the path to better health. Participating agencies will follow a week-by-week plan to help employees take baby steps to improve their wellness.
Employers have a vested interest in healthy employees: Heart disease isn’t cheap. According to the CDC, cardiovascular disease, including heart disease and stroke, costs $312.6 billion each year. That total includes the cost of health care services, medications and lost productivity. These conditions also are leading causes of disabilities that prevent Americans from working.
Healthy Heart Challenge participants will tackle one key area a week with fun, simple habits that work with their lives, zeroing in on small adjustments that feel good. In a month, many will see improvements and be on their way to living a heart-healthy lifestyle that can last a lifetime.
The challenge will focus each week on one of these areas:
Drink more water — and fewer sugar or artificially sweetened beverages. Flavor your water with lemon, lime or cucumber. Start right away. Drink water when you first wake up and enjoy hot water with lemon while your coffee brews. Water has an alkalizing effect in the body, which reduces inflammation. Find a bottle or glass you like to keep at your desk, in the car or by your bed. Set reminders on your phone to drink eight glasses a day. Drink water before succumbing to unhealthy snacks — thirst sometimes feels like hunger, especially if you crave something salty. Employers can help by putting jugs of water infused with lemon or lime in break rooms. Use water drinking reminder apps: Daily Water, Drink Timer, Water Your Body and Drinking Water.
Lace up your walking shoes. Start out with short, 10-minute walks and work up to 30 minutes. Park at the far end of the parking lot. Take the stairs. Form a walking group. Employers can plan short group walks, decorate stairwells or conduct a mileage contest to a destination. Use these walking apps: Map My Walk and Walking Paths.
Create a heart-healthy plate with more fruits and vegetables. Add a serving of fruit or vegetables each day, aiming for five to seven servings total. Try mixing different fruits together for a tasty snack. Keep a bag of fresh vegetables at your desk for cravings. Try a new plant-based recipe. Employers can provide recipe cards with plant-based ideas or a basket of fresh fruit in the break room, host a veggie-fest potluck or serve fruit smoothies instead of donuts at meetings. Consider online inspiration at www.smartbalance.com, www.heart.org and www.cookinglight.com.
Learn to take it easy with more sleep, less stress and a better outlook. Set a sleep schedule and bedtime routine. Don’t go to bed hungry or over-full. Include physical activity in your daily routine. Take time everyday to be in a comfortable place and relax, even for 10 minutes, to minimize stress. Employers can send “glass half full” or humorous e-mails each day, create a “quiet room” for employees to decompress on short breaks and encourage writing in a gratitude journal.
Stretch, especially if you sit at a desk all day. Get up and move every hour. Stand while talking on the phone. Consider a standing work station. Employers can host lunchtime yoga classes. Consider these stretching pop-ups at www.stretchclock.com and www.monkeymatt.com.
Take time to connect, say something positive and reinforce healthy relationships. Gather with a group of friends for a lunchtime walk. Participate in an intramural sport. Set aside time with your family everyday. Employers can recognize random acts by employees, allow an extra lunch hour for time with friends or family or coordinate a family night.
The Healthy Hearts Challenge is open to anyone. To sign up or obtain more information, send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.