“We must sit less, move more, sleep more and be aware of what we eat,” says Mercedes Carnethon, an epidemiologist and deputy director of the department of preventive medicine at Northwestern University in Chicago. “Setting goals that balance these priorities and are at the same time achievable will be very important to establish a proper dynamic.”
How to do it may require effort. But it’s not impossible. The American Heart Association (AHA) has something to say about it, and its recommendations were collected in an article published this week by HealthDay News. Here are some ways to get started.
Eat and drink healthier
Start with small changes and measurable goals in terms of eating better and reducing calories, says nutritionist and author Claudia Gonzalez of Miami.
Choose a couple of new healthy behaviors every month. Keep control of desserts at home, by eating only a scoop of ice cream or a small piece of chocolate, occasionally.
If your goal is to eat more servings of fruits and vegetables, try to include them with the foods you already like, González suggests. Add spinach or green peppers to your pizza, or eat broccoli or raw carrots with a little salad dressing.
“So he will think: ‘How delicious! The thing is not so bad.’ In the end, he will be friends with vegetables,” he adds.
Serving sizes at meals is the key to healthy eating. Experiment with half or three quarters of what you would use at each meal.
Sugary drinks are not the best option to stay hydrated, and their calories add up quickly, Gonzalez recalls. Then, select water usually. Do you need flavor? Add sliced strawberries or cucumbers.
Sleeping on a regular and restorative basis, seven to nine hours a night in the case of most healthy adults, is necessary to have a healthy metabolism, optimal brain function and a good quality of life, says Carnethon.
By not getting enough sleep, he adds, problems such as weight gain and chronic diseases such as high blood pressure, diabetes and heart failure may eventually appear.
Commit to move more
Physical activity burns calories, helps you lose weight and contributes to your overall health.
Carnethon emphasizes that it is important to start slowly. Set weekly and monthly goals that you can measure and be realistic. If your habit is to spend it sitting in an armchair, do not say that you will run a marathon in two months. Focus on smaller steps such as walking 30 minutes daily for two weeks. Then set a larger goal that includes more intense walks. And then start running.
“The mistake that some people make when it comes to setting goals is to be too ambitious or not enough,” says Carnethon, who suggests setting an initial goal “achievable” but realistic.
The risks of cardiovascular disease increase when you spend too much time sedentary. Therefore, adults should try to exercise with at least 150 minutes of moderate physical activity weekly, or at least 75 minutes of strenuous activity.
Also try to include activities that strengthen muscles, in addition to raising physical activity with an exercise class, agile walks, arduous gardening, or even dancing.
It is not necessary to do all the activity at the same time. Exercise sessions and other types of physical activity can be divided into shorter segments throughout the week.
Schedule a review
To maintain physical and mental health, it is crucial that you regularly go to your health care provider. These consultations should address all factors that could affect your health and that may include changes in your lifestyle and impediments in taking medications, says Carnethon.
These conversations should also include your family’s medical history, which are strongly related to the risks of heart disease. So, if you don’t know your family member’s medical history, it’s a good time to ask. Start with your immediate family and continue with all the branches of your extended family.