3 Simple Swaps for Better Heart Health

Busy people can find it difficult to take heart-healthy steps. These simple swaps can help.

Busy days make it difficult to prioritize heart health. You just feel like you don’t have time for the habits that keep your ticker in great shape—like exercising regularly, getting enough sleep, and eating healthy. So maybe you’ll take the stairs when you can, or park further away from a store to rack up a few extra steps each day. But what else can you do? Here are three things that can fit into your schedule.

Replace electronic communication with a face-to-face meeting

It’s fine if texting, emailing, social media, or Zoom calls are your primary means of communicating with others. But it’s not good if these methods leave you feeling lonely or isolated — two problems linked to higher risks of heart disease, heart attack or stroke, according to a scientific statement from the American Heart Association in Journal of the American Heart Association.

To combat loneliness and isolation, try replacing some of your electronic back-and-forth with people with in-person meetings. Maybe you can find room in your schedule for a quick walk, a cup of coffee, or a quick lunch with a friend or colleague.

“Time spent face-to-face helps you connect with others and can make you feel less isolated,” explains Matthew Lee, a sociologist and research fellow at the Human Flourishing Program at Harvard University. “Being physically present can help you feel more engaged with others, more valued, and more likely to feel a shared identity—all things that can help alleviate loneliness.” That’s why some doctors are beginning to engage in “social prescribing,” “including suggesting that people get involved in volunteering and other activities that build personal social relationships.”

A recent study published in International Journal of Public Health by Lee and a team of researchers led by Harvard suggests that better social connectedness may reduce the risk of being diagnosed with depression or anxiety. Both are associated with heart disease or worsening of existing heart disease.

Replace an unhealthy snack with a healthier one

Is your typical breakfast something fast and full of refined (not whole grain) foods, processed meats, saturated fat or added sugar? Eating this type of food regularly can increase calories, weight, blood sugar or cholesterol levels – and that’s not good for your heart.

Instead, choose breakfast foods rich in fiber, a type of carbohydrate that either passes through the body undigested (insoluble fiber) or dissolves into a gel (soluble fiber) that coats the intestines.

Fiber not only aids digestion, but also

  • traps, cleans and lowers poorly [LDL] cholesterol, which can lead to clogged arteries
  • controls blood sugar and reduces the risk of diabetes, which is strongly associated with heart attacks and strokes
  • can help fight chronic inflammation, which plays a role in clogging arteries and causing heart attacks.

Fruits, nuts, seeds, whole grains (oats, barley, quinoa) and many other foods are rich in fiber. Try these fiber-rich breakfast ideas:

  • microwave oatmeal (heat 1/2 cup oatmeal with about a cup of low-fat milk for about two minutes)
  • a serving of cooked quinoa (cold if you have it in your fridge) with a dollop of non-fat Greek yogurt, berries and granola
  • whole grain cereals with milk (go for cereals with the highest amounts of whole grains and the lowest amounts of added sugars)
  • a slice of whole-wheat toast with two tablespoons of nut butter (such as almond or peanut butter)
  • a handful or two of homemade mix (use your favorite unsalted nuts, sunflower seeds, and dried fruit like raisins or apricots).

Trade a few minutes of scrolling time for meditation time

If you ever take a break from your busy day to check the news on your phone or computer, chances are you also find some time to meditate, which is important for heart health. Research shows that people who meditate have lower rates of high cholesterol, diabetes, high blood pressure, stroke, and coronary artery disease than people who don’t meditate.

what is the connection Meditation triggers the body’s relaxation response, a well-studied physiological change that appears to help lower blood pressure, heart rate, breathing rate, oxygen consumption, adrenaline levels, and levels of the stress hormone cortisol.

The great news: It doesn’t take long to reap the heart-healthy benefits of meditation—just about 10 to 20 minutes a day.

Ideas for quick ways to meditate on a busy day include sitting quietly, closing your eyes and

  • focusing on your breathing without judging the sounds you hear or the thoughts that pop into your head
  • listening to a guided meditation that uses mental imagery to help you relax
  • listening to a recording of soothing sounds such as waves, a babbling brook or light rain.

Just try to quiet your brain for a few minutes a day. You may soon find yourself getting better at meditating and practicing other heart-healthy habits, no matter how busy you are.

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