As people in the United States come to terms with their second year of COVID-19, a new campaign is reminding them to make cardiovascular health a priority, especially during the pandemic. The “Start Small. Live Big.” campaign will encourage adults, particularly those 55 and older, to get back on track with the small steps—like scheduling their medical appointments, getting active, and eating healthy—so that they can get back to living big. We are happy to join with the CDC Foundation, the Million Hearts® initiative, and organizations across the nation in sharing these important steps:
- Work with your doctor to make a plan: Do you want to be healthier but have no idea where to start? Book an appointment with your general practitioner (GP) and make a plan together. No general practitioner? You can find one in minutes on UNC Lenoir Health’s website, by calling us at 252.522.7000 or by emailing us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Once you’re working with a physician, they can check your blood pressure and cholesterol levels to determine if you will need to work on those. They can also help support you as you implement healthier habits, like better eating, quitting smoking or drinking, and finding an exercise plan that works for you. In addition, a GP can prescribe any medications you might need and refer you to any specialists who can better help with specific areas of care. Preventative healthcare may be covered at 100% by your insurance plan. Check with your doctor’s office or insurance company to be sure.
- Get Active: Did you know that only five minutes a day of physical activity has an impact on your heart health? Some people think that it takes hours a day of exercise to matter, but that is simply not true. Start small and build up to 20-30 minutes of physical activity, 150 minutes of moderate physical activity, or 22 minutes per day, which will make a big difference in your heart health. Walking is a great ramp-up activity that has many other benefits besides heart health. If accountability is a challenge, get a buddy! Even if you don’t work out together every day, you can keep up with each other and challenge each other to stay on track. Remember too that active chores like washing the car, vacuuming, and gardening are great for your heart!
- Develop great eating habits: A good rule of thumb is to fill half of your plate at every meal with fruits and vegetables. They don’t even have to be fresh; frozen and canned also work. If you use canned, watch the sodium levels. And speaking of sodium, watch your sodium intake. Too much sodium raises your risk of stroke, high blood pressure, and heart disease. As part of a healthy eating, plan, you want to consume less than 2300 mg of salt per day. Check prepared foods for sodium levels and be stingy with the table salt. You should also watch your levels of saturated fat, found in full-fat dairy, fatty meats, and oils. Try using products with unsaturated fat, including olive oil, avocados, and nuts.
- Be a role model: Once you get a plan and are on your way, model heart-healthy behavior for your friends and family. Talk about your family and personal heart history and how you’ve improved your own health. Knowledge is power when it comes to making healthcare decisions. You can also exercise together, which is a great bonding time and provides accountability. And when preparing family meals, work together to decide how to make your meals most healthy and then shop and prepare them as a team.
Remember that it doesn’t take long to see the benefits of your heart-healthy changes and don’t give up! You can learn more about the best changes to make at Heart-Healthy Steps and more about heart health by searching on the UNC Lenoir Health Care website.