Six Heart-Healthy New Year’s Resolutions You Should Make Immediately

A new year can seem like an endless opportunity to make changes in your life, like finding love, organizing your closet, or losing those 10 pounds that just won’t go away. Of course, realistic New Year’s resolutions involve prioritizing rather than attempting to address every issue at once.

Give your heart health top priority this year. Although it may not be as glitzy or fashionable as other New Year’s resolutions, there are still many good reasons to stick with it. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) state that heart disease is the top cause of death in the US for both men and women, as well as for almost every racial and ethnic group. Furthermore, you may have prediabetes or type 2 diabetes, elevated blood lipid (cholesterol and triglyceride) levels, high blood pressure, and other cardiovascular risk factors long before you are diagnosed with any heart disease or suffer a cardiovascular event like a heart attack or stroke.

Helga Van Herle, MD, a cardiologist and associate professor of clinical medicine at the Keck School of Medicine at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, says that when it comes to prioritizing heart health, “some people are really shocked into action.” That might occur after a heart disease diagnosis or after taking a prescription medicine that lowers cholesterol, she says.

But if you act now and change your lifestyle to a heart-healthy one, you might be able to prevent reaching that point. When it comes to heart health, “some of the basic stuff that rings true is actually the most important,” according to Evan Shalen, MD, an assistant professor of medicine at Oregon Health and Science University in Portland and a cardiologist.

These are six easy goals you can start implementing right now to put your heart health first

Make an appointment for an annual examination

You might already be visiting your doctor frequently if you’ve been diagnosed with heart disease. However, for the majority of people who do not have heart disease, it is still important to have an annual physical to determine your heart risk.

Eugene Yang, MD, a cardiologist and clinical professor of medicine at the University of Washington in Bellevue, says that understanding your numbers is crucial. These figures include measurements like your weight, blood pressure, triglycerides, cholesterol, and blood sugar, as well as tests like hemoglobin A1C that can indicate type 2 diabetes or prediabetes.

According to Dr. Van Herle, your doctor can use these figures to determine your 10-year and lifetime risk of experiencing a cardiovascular event, or how likely it is that you will have a heart attack, stroke, or need specific medical procedures like stent placement within the next ten years and for the rest of your life. She says that understanding your level of risk is a good place to start when talking about what you can or should be doing to lower that risk. According to her, “if you have medical conditions like hypertension, high cholesterol, or diabetes that portend a higher risk of heart disease, then that’s especially important.”

Continue Your Physical Activity

“Making sure people are staying active is the No. 1 recommendation that I give people,” states Dr. Shalen in regards to lifestyle choices. Furthermore, it applies to everyone, not just the elderly or those whose statistics indicate a high cardiovascular risk. “Those who have been active throughout their lives are typically the ones who are able to stay active and feel well later in life,” the man observes when observing people age.

Most adults should engage in at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity per week, according to the American Heart Association (AHA). This can be incorporated into everyday activities like walking your dog, riding your bike to work, gardening, or dancing. Additional health benefits can be obtained by engaging in resistance or weight training at least twice a week and getting at least 300 minutes (five hours) of moderate-intensity exercise each week.

Shalen advises pushing yourself a little if you’re already getting the recommended amount of exercise and are in reasonable physical condition. He advises, “When you’re walking, walk faster or maybe mix in a little bit of jogging.” “Or seek out a hill that you can walk up, so that there’s some sort of progressive element.”

Your heart and the structures it interacts with (blood vessels, for example) become more efficient as you engage in more demanding or strenuous physical activity, and your muscles become more adept at using oxygen, all of which gradually improve your cardiovascular health.

Adjust Your Lifestyle in a Realistic Way

Of course, there are many other areas where one can adopt heart-healthy lifestyle choices besides physical activity. However, avoid putting yourself in a situation where you will fail or be disappointed when you set goals.

“I think part of the way to be more successful is to create modest goals,” suggests Dr. Yang. “Think about one thing that you really think you can be committed to. If you have too many things, then some things you do well, and other things you don’t do well.”

And even in the lifestyle area that you choose to prioritize, be realistic. For example, Yang says, “Some patients will come in and say, ‘I will lose 20 pounds in three months.’ And I will say, ‘If you can do that, fantastic. But what is a goal that is more achievable?’ It might be 5 pounds or 10 pounds.” It’s more important, he says, to “move the needle” consistently in an area of health or lifestyle than to achieve any single goal.

The following are a few instances of modest objectives you could set to enhance your health:

  • Taking a three-day walk to work each week
  • Reducing your daily alcohol consumption
  • preparing meals five days a week at home
  • Reducing your intake of animal fats and switching to olive oil, avocados, nuts, and seeds
  • Creating a plan with your physician to stop smoking

Van Herle advises putting an emphasis on accountability and mindfulness when creating and assessing your goals. She implores, “Recognize what your limits are and consider what you’ve been doing.” To give yourself more flexibility, you might need to adjust a goal if you’ve been having trouble with it. For example, you might decide to switch from a daily to a weekly workout target.

There are several methods for keeping yourself responsible for achieving your objectives. Van Herle says that sometimes it’s as simple as having a friend there or going back to the doctor and telling them, “I’ve got my fitness tracker, and I’ve been walking this number of steps a day.”

Make Sleep a Priority

The American Heart Association lists healthy sleep as one of the key health behaviors and factors (along with eating better, exercising more, giving up smoking, controlling your weight, lowering your cholesterol, controlling your blood pressure, and managing your blood sugar). The American Heart Association claims that “enough sleep promotes healing, improves brain function, and lowers the risk for chronic diseases.”

An association was found between cardiovascular disease and irregular sleep patterns in a study that was published in the Journal of the American Heart Association.

Talk to your doctor about getting screened for sleep apnea, a disorder that causes your breathing to become shallow or stop entirely while you sleep, in addition to making sure you’re adhering to the basic health sleep habits outlined by the American Heart Association, such as getting seven to nine hours per day and making sure your bedroom is dark and free of distractions from electronic devices. Treating sleep apnea may be the most crucial thing a person with the condition can do for their heart health, according to Shalen, who notes that the condition is “clearly associated with an increased risk of a number of cardiovascular diseases over time.”

Remain Compliant with Medication

One strategy to enhance your heart health is to adhere to your prescribed treatment plan if you currently take medication to lower your risk for heart disease, such as blood pressure, cholesterol, or blood clot prevention drugs.

Regrettably, a lot of people don’t take their prescriptions as directed. “We know that the rate of adherence to medications at one year is close to only 50 percent,” says Yang, even for those who have already experienced a heart attack. “It’s a serious issue because medication non-adherence significantly raises the chance of experiencing another incident.”

Taking your medications as prescribed can help you stay feeling good even if you already feel good. According to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, you can make sure you remember to take your medications by writing out a chart listing all of your prescriptions, setting daily reminders on your phone, or using a pill organizer.

Although it may seem like the exact opposite of working toward heart-healthy objectives, trying to unwind is a necessary goal in and of itself. As Van Herle points out, cardiac rehab programs frequently incorporate stress-reduction techniques like gentle yoga or meditation in addition to their usual focus on structured exercise for patients recovering from heart attacks or other cardiovascular events.

Strive for Calm and Reduced Stress

Additionally, remember to treat yourself with kindness if you don’t achieve your heart-healthy goals as well as you would have liked. According to Van Herle, “it’s easy in the moment around the New Year” to stick with new routines or goals. “But over time, it becomes more difficult.”