Often when face-to-face with a health care professional we hear things we already know but have been putting off acting upon for fear that the changes needed are too big. The most daunting for some can be weight loss, especially if it’s needed to improve heart health. But with the right strategies and approach, losing weight can be a less daunting task.
“Studies have shown that losing just five to 10 percent of body weight can translate to significant changes in overall health,” says Cliff Berger, MD, an interventional cardiologist at Steward Health Care. “Benefits include lowered blood pressure, blood sugar, and cholesterol, and can act as a kick start to further weight loss down the road. Moreover, all of that is good for your heart.”
Here are five steps to get you started:
1. Track what you eat
“Just the act of writing down what and how much we consume can influence the quantities we eat. It will also show areas where you can easily cut back on portions and servings,” says Dr. Berger. Luckily, we live in an electronic age where there is an app or website for everything we want to keep track of. Most have extensive databases of food built in. However, even just writing food down on a notepad will help significantly.”
2. Move more
You do not need to run a marathon, a 5K, or even run at all. Walking has many health benefits and can be accomplished with little extra effort.
“Research has shown that walking 30 minutes a day improves circulation, which can reduce the risk of stroke by 20 to 40 percent,” explains Dr. Berger. “If you cannot find time for a 30-minute walk, try parking the car further from the door, taking the stairs when available, and getting up more throughout the day. If shopping, add an extra loop around the store at a quicker pace before checking out, and if watching TV, use the commercials as a chance to stand up and stretch.”
3. Reduce sugar
Sugar comes in many forms and is often added to several of the items we eat on a daily basis. Once we begin to recognize the amounts of sugar we consume, it is easy to reduce it.
“Obvious culprits are desserts, like cake, ice cream or cookies – but sugar can be found in pasta sauce, peanut butter, and cereals,” says Dr. Berger. “In addition, carbohydrates turn to sugar in our blood stream, making pasta, bread, and crackers equally as culpable in the amounts we consume.”
Dr. Berger suggests reading labels as an easy first step to cutting back as it will aid in making better choices about the products you purchase. The American Heart Association offers an easy guide to Understanding Nutrition Labels.
4. Drink water
Not only will switching to water from soda or juice help cut calories, but it will also help reduce the acute rise in blood sugar that occurs with sugary drinks. Water does not need to be boring, either, as you can infuse it with fresh citrus fruits or berries to give you more flavors without artificial ingredients.
“Water is essential to maintaining good heart health as the human body needs water to survive,” explains Dr. Berger. “The most common reason for daytime fatigue and headache are mild dehydration from not drinking enough water.”
5. Eat more fruits and veggies
This is often the hardest step to weight loss for many people, but it is the most important. The nutrients our bodies need to be healthy are found in fresh fruits and vegetables and we need a variety of them each day. The average healthy eating plan allows for one or two small snacks a day. Choosing most fruits and vegetables will still allow you to eat a snack, but will only add about 100 to 200 calories to your diet.
“Achieving and maintaining a healthy heart are crucial to longevity,” concludes Dr. Berger. “The cardiovascular system is our engine and without proper maintenance and fuel, it can break down.”
By starting with these first steps daily, you will begin to lose weight and see changes in your overall health, which will make your heart happy.
To find a doctor or schedule an appointment, visit Steward DoctorFinder™.