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WHEN it comes to your health, there are a lot of aspects where you can take control. As always, getting your regular check-ups is one thing, but an even more accessible point of control starts at home. Making healthy lifestyle changes can set you on a path for good heart health. In this piece, provided by the Partners Interventional Center of Jamaica (PICJ), Dr Camile Christian talks through the importance of living a heart healthy lifestyle.

PICJ offers a wide array of diagnostic services that can give you a starting point to set your health goals or intervene before it gets difficult. They also have cardiac experts and specialists such as a nutritionist and general practitioner, who are ready to get you on track to living a heart healthy lifestyle.

Get your body moving

Exercise gets our heart pumping. Regular physical activity can improve your heart function, lower your blood pressure and help you maintain a healthy weight. It also reduces your risk for diabetes and increases HDL or “good” cholesterol, which goes a long way in reducing your risk of heart disease. Dr Christian recommends 30 minutes of some type of aerobics exercise, ideally at least four times a week. Remember, the intensity depends on what you can manage. The most important thing is to get up and get moving!

Some great examples of aerobic exercises are running, cycling, brisk walking, swimming, jump rope and dancing. check out YouTube or Instagram for at-home exercises for every skill level. You can even find videos that incorporate everyday items instead of costly gym equipment. Don’t forget to keep yourself well hydrated!

Add more fresh fruits and vegetables

Incorporating more plant-based options at mealtime is definitely beneficial to your heart health, as fruits and vegetables are proven to reduce your risk of heart attacks and strokes. Fruits and vegetables are packed with nutrients like fiber, vitamin C and beta carotene. There are many proven benefits to a high-fibre diet, as, according to Harvard Health Publishing, fiber seems to help lower cholesterol and blood pressure and improve blood vessel function.

What fruits and veggies are the best for improving heart function? Apples, pears, oranges, and other citrus fruits; green leafy vegetables such as spinach, broccoli, cabbage; and green and yellow vegetables such as green beans and carrots. If you’re on medication, it’s important to be aware of how food and your medication interact. Read through guides carefully and always take as directed.

People with strict vegan or vegetarian diets are ahead of the curve. However, being purely vegan comes with some concerns around vitamin deficiencies such as B12 deficiency. Dr Christian says while there isn’t anything wrong with a purely vegan diet, persons may need supplementation with additional vitamins to counter what they would be lacking.

We’ve talked about what to add to our diet but there is one thing Dr Christian strongly recommends you cut. “Things you really want to cut are sugars, especially added sugars in foods, drinks – all the extra sweet stuff.”

She added, “There are certain things where if you cut them from your diet, your body may feel very different, almost like withdrawal. Sometimes it makes you feel more lousy but if you persist, you’ll be surprised how much better you feel .”

Learning to cope with stress

One of the biggest factors that affect heart health is stress. A lot of the consequences of stress, such as high blood pressure and high cholesterol, leading to heart disease. And so, finding ways to cope with stress is crucial. Whether through your new exercise routine, taking up something calming like yoga, meditation or even using deep breathing exercises, there are lots of little things you can put in your daily routine to minimize the effects of stress.

People often rely on substances like cigarettes to escape the grind of life. But they are not a healthy way to cope with stress. The most important modifiable risk factor in heart disease is smoking. “You would do yourself a big favor by quitting smoking, even if it requires seeking help,” said Dr Christian.

Equally important is getting good sleep. Sleep gives your body time to restore and goes a long way to improving your overall physical health. Dr Christian suggests making it intentional by going to sleep at the same time or getting as close to a full eight hours as possible.

Even if you don’t have a chronic illness, Dr Christian still emphasizes getting a routine check-up, especially once you’re over the age of 40 or have a family history of illness.

“Don’t assume just because you’re young you’re immune from getting sick,” she says. “We all need a wellness check. There are some diseases that are silent, and you don’t discover them unless you go and get checked.”