Give Yourself the Gift of Health

Give Yourself the Gift of Health

By: Palomar Health Heart and Vascular Center of Excellence

Unfortunately many of us don’t start taking care of our heart until we’ve had an episode. If you’re lucky, you get a second chance, but why not start taking care of your heart now? Palomar Health Exercise Physiologist Mary Hart says it’s never too early to start.

“People take better care of their cars,” Hart says, “than their own bodies.”

Hart would know because she works with patients at Palomar Health Outpatient Cardiac Rehabilitation Services who have suffered life-changing heart events.

“You’d never put the wrong oil in your car but every day we put stuff that doesn’t belong in our bodies.”

You shouldn’t wait until you suffer a heart attack to take heart care seriously. As a young person, your body may adapt to your poor health habits but you may pay a price later in life. The good news is you can turn the clock back to some extent following some easy to remember steps:

Don’t Smoke
This is a no brainer but the habit is still prevalent, especially with the introduction of vaping. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports 2,000 Americans younger than age 18 smoke their first cigarette every day. Hart refers patients with a smoking habit to one of many smoking cessation programs.

You should do at least 150 minutes of cardio exercise each week, Hart says. You can break those minutes up in various ways but the key is to get your heart rate up for a sustained period of time. It can be as simple as walking before and after work for 20 minutes at a time.

“If we sit in a chair long enough, we’re going to be stuck in a chair,” Hart says.

Some ways to get exercise include walking, running, swimming, bike riding, weight lifting and dancing. Resistance training is a beneficial supplement to cardiovascular activity but you don’t need to join a gym or spend a dime on equipment. You can just as effectively use your own body weight for resistance. Whatever you choose, do it regularly.

“I always tell my patients the best exercise you can do is the one you’ll do,” Hart says.

Stretching should also be part of your exercise routine. You can stretch at home or take a yoga class. Increasing flexibility will decrease injuries and help us do what we want to do as we age.

Eat Healthy
One of the hardest lifestyle changes to make are eating habits because they have been ingrained since childhood. We know what we should be eating: fruits, vegetables, lean meats; and what we shouldn’t: fast food, sugary soda, candy. Many fad diets and lose-weight-fast gimmicks are available but research shows most people can’t sustain them.

Instead Hart suggests, “Start by changing one thing and work on that, then pick another thing.”

She also recommends joining a support group, whether formally or just with your friends and family. She says the motivation to change can be tough if you haven’t had a life-changing event like most of her patients so you need support to stick to your goals.

Manage Stress
Stress puts our body in a fight-or-flight mode, increasing our blood pressure and taxing our heart. It’s healthy if it occurs occasionally but not every day. You might believe stress is something that happens to you, not because of you, but Hart says it’s something you can manage with training and proper mindset. To emphasize the point, she shares a video with her patients where the trainer tells the viewer, “Every event in life is inherently neutral. The stress we attach to it makes it big or small.”

Some stress management techniques include breathing, meditation, Tai Chi and music, but the most important thing is to acknowledge we control our stress levels.

Acknowledge it’s never too late to change.

“I’ve seen some tremendous turnarounds of patients that are just unbelievable,” Hart said, adding some patients have been 70 years old when they finally made the changes necessary to have a healthy lifestyle.

You can take control of your health.

“It’s a gift that only you can give to yourself,” Hart said. “Nobody else can give it to you.”

Photo Caption: Palomar Health Cardiologist Mikhail Malek, MD and patient Don Zech share a photo of Zech completing a marathon after recovering from both a heart attack and heart arrest in the same month.