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Making lifestyle changes for a healthier heart

Adventist Health Health and Wellness, Fitness

An estimated 1.8 million adult Oregonians are obese or overweight, putting them at high risk for developing diabetes and heart disease.

But by making simple lifestyle changes, like eating well and exercising, chronic diseases can be prevented. Incorporating more fruits and vegetables into our daily meals provides our bodies with essential vitamins, nutrients and minerals that keep us healthy and prevent heart disease. And here in Oregon, we're fortunate to have an abundance of accessible farmers markets that provide us with a bounty of fresh, healthy food options. It's one reason to love the Pacific Northwest.

Heart disease and diabetes prevalence in Oregon

The reality is that there's room for improvement. The standard American diet is full of processed foods, carbohydrates and large sugary beverages that inflame the body and red blood cells, clogging blood vessels and causing vascular problems.

Approximately 287,000 adult Oregonians are living with diabetes which can lead to vascular problems and heart disease, a chronic disease that kills 800,000 Americans every year. This silent disease stems from poor diet and a lack of exercise, but the good news is that it can be prevented by making lifestyle changes.

Prevent heart disease by eating well

A good starting place for a healthier heart is to avoid eating foods that are high in fat, sugar and carbohydrates. Boost the amount of protein-rich nuts and legumes you're consuming. Switch from white bread to whole grain. Cook with olive oil and spices and cut back on butter and salt. Small adjustments like these can make a huge, "hearty" improvement.

Daniel Ananyev, DO

"The ultimate choice is to consider what your body needs, not what your mouth tells you it wants," says Dr. Daniel Ananyev, an integrative medicine specialist with Adventist Health Medical Group. "People are cutting out calories, instead of the unhealthy foods. We still need nutrients to give us energy, but there are healthier alternatives to many of the foods we eat."

According to Dr. Ananyev, the Mediterranean diet is the most natural way of lowering cholesterol and blood pressure. Choosing to eat whole grains and lean proteins will give you longer-lasting energy. Fish and fish oil, or a handful of nuts, will help control cholesterol. And even adding a little cinnamon to food can help keep your blood sugar from spiking.

Prevent heart disease through exercise

Losing weight is one of the best ways to manage or reverse the effects of heart disease. Losing just 15 pounds can decrease blood pressure and improve heart function. Getting 30 minutes of moderate daily activity will improve heart health, whether it's a morning jog or a hike to the top of Mt. Tabor. Swimming is also a great way to improve heart health and lung capacity while being gentle on your joints. Like other aerobic exercises, it improves cardiovascular fitness as well as cholesterol levels.

There are simple ways to exercise throughout the day. Go for a walk at lunch, get a standing desk, or use an exercise ball for core strengthening. Track your steps and fitness progress through a step counter or your cell phone's health app.

It's also important to integrate "Vitamin N" into your life-nature. If you're lacking nature in your life, it can cause depression and affect mental health. Get creative and get outside when exercising.

BMI and other heart disease factors

A good measurement for healthy weight is BMI (body mass index), which measures weight in relation to height. If you have a BMI of 25 or higher, it's a risk factor for high blood pressure and diabetes. If you are overweight in terms of BMI, you're at increased risk for developing diabetes.

Feeling stressed? Psychological and environmental stressors can also affect heart health. If you feel like your life is chaotic, it can affect your dietary and exercise habits. Underlying emotions and your state of being can also drive poor health decisions, like overeating.

Dr. Ananyev will be presenting about heart disease and lifestyle changes at "A Fair of the Heart" on February 28, a free event to celebrate our hearts.

Meet Dr. Ananyev