You are approaching middle age or senior rank. You feel well. You exercise regularly. You are active, and you control your weight.
If that is you, you rightly could say to yourself that you live a heart healthy life and need not to worry, right? Wrong if you are overlooking three common lifestyle mistakes that sabotage your effort to maintain a healthy heart. You are not alone, most people do.
Or, you took action because you know what you need to do before your heart is seriously weakened. You made the commitment to lose weight, adjust your nutrition and become more active, or simply to break that bad health habit.
If that is you, then this is the time to become aware of the common mistakes which could stress your heart more instead of strengthening it.
Mistake # 1: Binge Exercising.
The weekend warrior exerciser! You try to make up for the week you spend more hours sitting or slow-moving with minimal to no activity in-between. Then on the weekend you engage in high-intensity aerobic exercise for an extended time. Such activity schedule raises the risk of a heart attack.
What to do instead:
- Schedule 30 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity during the week. You can even split it in 15 minute segments. This could be walking briskly or jogging, cycling, climbing stairs, … the key is to raise the heart rate. On weekends be active while having fun: family outing, gardening, swimming, play with kids and / or dogs, etc.
- Become aware of how long you sit during the day: for every hour you sit, get up and stretch, move your body, arms and legs around for one minute.
- Pay attention to any activity you could add during the day: walk stairs, walk more briskly around, get up from the chair with an extra energy push.
Mistake # 2: Ignoring Adequate Sleep at Night.
Scientific evidence related to chronic sleep deprivation and health is overwhelming. Less than 7 to 8 hours per night historically leads to a multitude of serious health consequences, one of which is a failing heart. The body needs to recover from the day's unrest and return to its balanced functions.
What to do instead:
Prioritize sleep. You will have to decide what to change in your lifestyle to get the needed 7 to 8 hours per night on a regular basis. May it be cutting out late snacks, changing from a heavy to a light earlier evening meal; adjusting alcohol or caffeine at night, late TV, or whatever you need to change that keeps you awake late.
Catch-up sleep is not a healthy sleep nor is a sleep induced by sleeping pills. A heart healthy sleep requires a regular pattern. Do not expect immediate results. The body needs time to readjust.
Mistake # 3: Focusing on Calorie-Control Instead of Healthy Calorie Management.
You can hold your normal weight but lack nutritional balance of carbohydrates, fat and protein. This will cause your body to slowly fall into a metabolic distress. The overall effects eventually will be detrimental, especially to your heart.
Losing weight means losing calories. But how you lose calories is the key to sustaining health.
Eating less and exercising more – yes, you burn calories quickly and lose weight. But you also create a hormonal imbalance and stress your body functions, especially your heart.
Reducing calories through crash diets, extreme nutritional changes – yes, you can lose weight quickly but at what health cost?
What to do instead:
The key to achieving and maintaining a heart healthy weight is not about short-term dietary changes. It's about a lifestyle that includes healthy eating, regular physical activity, and balancing the calories you consume with those your body burns.
Focus to achieve long-term changes and evaluate your nutrition lifestyle. If you eat less, exercise less intensely but remain active. Keep it simple, be practical and use general guidelines.
Do you consume 20 to 35% protein, 20 to 35% of fat and about 30 -40% carbohydrates of your daily calories? Do you keep that balance most of the time each meal?
To evaluate your nutritional quality of your diet, answer these questions:
- Is most of your protein lean and low in saturated fats, including some plant-based and fish?
- Does your fat consumption include more that 10% of solid fats like butter, or other dairy products? If yes, reduce and switch to monounsaturated oils and free of trans-fats like olive or canola oil?
- Do your carbohydrates predominately come from complex sugars like fresh fruits and vegetables (healthy) or simple ones like refined sugars (health killers); do they include adequate fiber, eg nuts, seeds, fruits, beans, bran, etc.?