February is American Heart Month. Chances are you know someone who has had some form of cardiovascular disease or been impacted by it. Cardiovascular diseases (CVD) include coronary heart disease, hypertension, rheumatic heart disease and stroke. Atherosclerotic diseases of the heart and vascular system are the most common forms of CVD. Cardiovascular disease is the most common cause of death in the United States as more people die from CVD than the next six leading causes of death combined. On average about 2,400 people die from CVD or about one person every 37 seconds. Think about that…
Now, think about how preventable much of that is. There is definitely a genetic component to this disease, don’t get me wrong there. However, that doesn’t mean that a person can’t still make healthier choices to help minimize their risk factors.
I’m not going to go into a lengthy discussion on all the different things you can do to help you eat healthier here, our good friends at Precision Nutrition have done a GREAT job on that in this article on CVD. I will say this though… you CAN do something about it. YOU can do something about it, if you choose to. Whether it is you or someone you know, love or reasonably tolerate, you can do SOMETHING about it.
What can you do? Well, first of all, consult with your doctor before beginning any exercise or nutrition program, especially if you are not accustomed to exercise or having any cardiovascular disease risk factors that need medical attention. Then, once you have clearance and you are ready, willing and able to make some positive changes and take some steps towards bettering yourself and your health, you can simply do one thing. That can be go for a 5 or 30 minute walk, some yoga or meditation, join a gym with small group personal training to help you get the guidance and support you need to safely take your next steps, and start making some positive changes on what you put in your body!
Nutrition is a powerful tool in your toolbox, if you are using for good instead of evil.
If you read the Precision Nutrition article linked above you probably saw that many CVD risk factors and causes are related to inflammation which comes from highly processed, refined, sugary “comfort foods” and all kinds of “goodies” that don’t leave you feeling so comforted or good after you’ve been eating them chronically. That is a big reason why we focus so much on eating WHOLE/UNPROCESSED FOODS in our nutrition and habits coaching. These REAL foods actually give your body the things it needs to support health and fitness. Anti-foods, such as pretty much anything fast food, found in the center aisles and endcaps of the grocery or convenience stores or something that promises life-changing results without changing anything in your life, are mostly poisons and chemicals designed to trick your brain into thinking they taste good and you lose all control and go wild eating them. Unfortunately, we all know the end result from taking that particular path… our current state of health, or lack thereof.
Change is hard. Many people who have CVD risk factors have probably tried making changes. Most have probably tried many times only to be left yet again feeling like a failure and making it even harder to try and change the next time. For some, the motivation (a strong enough WHY) only comes after a close encounter with death in the form of a heart attack or stroke. For a few, the motivation from within is realized before such a life-changing event happens. Others, unfortunately, never realize their potential to change before it’s too late.
How do we change our nutrition when health is our focus? Fortunately, just like with activity, the changes that we can make to our nutritional habits need not be too drastic to see some real positive change. I recommend (and these are only recommendations, not medical advice; see a medical professional for that) start with the low hanging fruits (pun intended) and go for what you are most ready, willing and able to do from the following list (again, taken from that article from our PN friends), with a few highlights and suggestions added from our perspective as well:
Eat a fruit (such as berries) and/or vegetable (1-2 fist-sized servings) with every meal
Eat legumes at least 5 times per week (if you tolerate them)
Eat only WHOLE/UNPROCESSED (FOODS) grains (IF YOU TOLERATE THEM)
Avoid trans fat consumption (found primarily in PROCESSED/REFINED FOODS)
Exercise for 5 hours per week; reach this goal gradually if you have existing CVD (and follow the guidelines of your medical/cardiac rehabilitation team)
Decrease amounts of excess body fat
Avoid refined carbohydrates (especially sugar!)
No less than 25 grams of fibre per day
Avoid processed foods
Eat/supplement with foods containing omega-3 fats such as fish, cage-free/grass-fed/free-range/organic eggs, chicken and other lean meats. Be aware of potential interactions with blood thinning medications. (again, check with your medical professionals for possible drug interactions with any prescriptions and supplements - you can also check here.)
Now, a lot of those items are based on a plant-based approach. That doesn’t have to be your approach but there is strong evidence that supports (and that supports including healthy meats as well. Find what works for you and what you are ready, willing and able to do and what your medical team recommends). If you are considering this route, here are some more great resources from the good people at Precision Nutrition for you to check out:
Not so sold on going plant-based? Well, here is one for Paleo eating. Both methods do have lots of benefits if you take your time and find what you are ready, willing and able to do. Afterall, the best “diet” is the one that you can stick with. If you can’t or don’t stick to it, it’s about as good as saying “hey, remember how great that vacation we never took was?!”. I know, makes as much sense as that diet you tried and didn’t stick with too!
So, I hope this gives you some ideas on what you can do and what you can maybe do for someone else who has CVD. It’s not something to take lightly. If you or someone you know is having symptoms, has risk factors, get help! And some of the best help is the help you can give yourself if you’re in that position by taking that hardest step, the first one, towards making positive changes in how you move, what you eat, how you sleep/recover and your mindset.
Change comes from repeatedly doing what you want to become. You are what you repeat. Small habits lead to big change. If you start with one small actionable step TODAY and do it or another one again tomorrow and the next day… that leads to a changed life! So, take one of the above suggestions and apply it to your daily routine today. Tell a friend or family member what you’re doing and keep doing it if it’s taking you in the right direction. And we’d love to help you get moving in the right direction if we can!