FROM LIVE BETTER AMERICA

This Is What A Healthy Day In the Life of Your Heart Looks Like

What if heart health were at the top of your to-do list? Here's a peek inside that daily planner, from dawn to dusk. You may be surprised how easy it is to fit heart-healthy habits into your lifestyle.

Early Morning

Wake up and walk. Set your alarm to go off 10 minutes early. Throw on some sweats and enjoy a brisk 10-minute walk before breakfast.

Sit down to breakfast. Studies have shown that people who eat breakfast are less likely to struggle with obesity than those who skip or skimp. If you’re overweight, just a 10 percent weight loss can prompt improvements in cholesterol levels and blood pressure, says Sarah Mohrman, RD, a cardiology dietitian with Fort Wayne Cardiology. She suggests these heart-smart choices:

  • Oatmeal. Sprinkle with 1 Tbsp of ground flaxseed, 1 cup blueberries, and 2 to 4 oz of pomegranate juice.
  • Cereal made with whole grain. Have a bowl with skim milk or low-fat soymilk, plus 1 cup of sliced strawberries.
  • Fruit parfait. Mix fresh berries into 6 to 8 oz of fat-free vanilla or plain yogurt. Sprinkle with slivered almonds and ground flaxseed.

Mid-Morning

Steal some exercise. Take the stairs instead of the elevator for errands or coffee refills. Stand up and stretch every half hour or so. Keep a pair of walking shoes at the office so you can take walks with colleagues while brainstorming ideas. These “stolen” moments of exercise add up. “Walking regularly can help reduce risk of heart attack,” says Margo B. Minissian, ACNP, a cardiology nurse practitioner at Cedars-Sinai Women’s Heart Center, in Los Angeles.

Snack smart. Stock up on alternatives to the vending machine. Keep apples, bananas, raisins, and other portable fruit snacks in your purse or briefcase, says Mohrman. Or pack some homemade trail mix made with whole grain cereal, dried fruits, and nuts.

Early Afternoon

Love that lunch. Whether you are brown bagging or ordering from a menu, a good lunch should energize you, not make you drowsy within the hour. Here are some choices that won’t drag you down:

  • Veggie wrap. Spread 1 Tbsp of light or fat-free garden vegetable cream cheese onto a tortilla made with whole grain. Add romaine lettuce and sliced tomato, avocado, shredded carrots and other vegetables. Roll and enjoy with a medium apple.
  • Turkey sandwich. Spread 1 tsp of fat-free mayo onto bread made with whole grain, add turkey, lettuce, sliced onion and tomato. On the side, enjoy 1 cup of pineapple chunks.

Mid-Afternoon

Schedule a screening. Make an appointment with your doctor for a cardiovascular risk assessment, which uses a formula to identify people at risk of heart disease though they have no symptoms, says Minissian.

Keep moving. Remember to take small breaks to stretch and move around. Walk the longest route to the water cooler and take the stairs.

Snack smart. Spread some natural peanut butter onto crackers made with whole grain or have 6 oz of low-fat yogurt topped with 1 Tbsp of ground flaxseed.

Evening

Dine with your heart in mind. Keep a cookbook of Mediterranean meals in the kitchen. They’re easy to prepare and easy on the heart. Try:

  • Grilled salmon. Prepare a 4 oz serving, with whole grain rice or couscous and 1/2 cup of cooked broccoli. Serve with 1 cup of berries.
  • Pasta primavera. Serve over whole wheat pasta. Toss lightly in olive oil and mix with sautéed garlic, broccoli, peas, cauliflower and asparagus. Enjoy a wedge of cantaloupe on the side.

After Dinner

More chances for movement. Time is tight but you can make time for exercise. Get the family to help clean the kitchen so you can go to your Pilates or yoga class. Take an evening walk with your family. Pedal on your stationary bike or rev up the treadmill while watching TV. Turn up the tunes and dance as you fold laundry.

Relax and rest. Stress and anxiety make the heart work harder, says Minissian. A stressed-out mind also doesn’t sleep as well. To calm down before bedtime, take a warm bath, then try some tactics that slow the mind and body, such as meditation, gentle stretching, reading, or journal writing.

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  • Preview the menu.

    Many restaurants post menus on their websites and also list the nutrition facts. If you've been watching your cholesterol, you probably already know which foods to look for and which foods to avoid. Choosing your meal ahead of time may reduce the chances that you'll succumb to the sight and scent of less-optimal choices.

  • Save room in your (dietary) budget.

    Make wise food choices for the rest of the day and you may have some discretionary calories (100 to 300 for most people) left to splurge on luxuries like a sweet baked good or a glass of wine at dinner.

  • Go first.

    That way, you may not be swayed by others' choices.

  • Be nosy.

    Go ahead and ask your server questions about items on the menu -- preparation, portion sizes, and so on. You may even want to make a special request -- like combining pasta with steamed vegetables -- for a more nutritious choice.

  • Be smart with beverages.

    Better choices include water (ask for a slice of lemon, lime, or orange to add zip), fat-free or low-fat milk, calorie-free carbonated beverages and unsweetened tea. For a change or pace, order sparkling water with a maraschino cherry.

  • Start with a salad.

    Try to pick a selection packed with veggies, and ask if there's a low-fat dressing option that you can have on the side.

  • Veg out.

    Maximize your vegetables by choosing dishes such as <a href="http://www.livebetteramerica.com/search?st=6&term=stir-fry#/?term=stir-fry&pi=1&ps=9?nicam5=PARTNERSHIPS&nichn5=AOL&niseg5=TDCORE_LBA&esrc=16549" target="_hplink">stir-fries</a> or <a href="http://www.livebetteramerica.com/search?st=6&term=kabob#/?term=kabob&pi=2&ps=9?nicam5=PARTNERSHIPS&nichn5=AOL&niseg5=TDCORE_LBA&esrc=16549" target="_hplink">kabobs</a>.

  • Favor fish.

    If you can't make up your mind, order fish for a smart choice. Some research shows that consumption of two omega-3 fatty acids found in fish, EPA and DHA, may reduce the risk of heart disease when combined with a low-fat diet. Best omega-3 choices: salmon, tuna and mackerel.

  • Make a soy selection.

    Eating 25 grams of soy protein per day as part of a diet low in saturated fats and cholesterol may reduce the risk of heart disease. Soy is everywhere if you just search a little. Look for tofu, soymilk, soy burgers, soy nuts, soy yogurt... and soy many more choices.

  • Choose your method.

    Order steamed, grilled, baked, blackened, or broiled food. Limit foods that are fried or sautéed.

  • Skip or substitute the extras.

    Help keep calories and fat under control by limiting the extras. Do you really need a second helping, extra gravy, or whole-milk sour cream? Instead, ask for -- and stick to -- one serving, small portions of gravy, and low-fat sour cream.

  • Keep portions in check.

    You may want to order an appetizer or side dish as your main meal. If you order a full entrée, share it with a friend or immediately set aside half to be taken home.

  • Bread and butter makeover.

    Go for breads made with whole grain -- they can help keep your heart healthy. Keep fats "healthy" by asking for olive oil instead of butter -- and limit the amount you use.

  • Take your time.

    Eat a portion of your meal, then lay down your fork and wait 10 minutes or so before taking another bite. This technique lets you savor the entire dining experience -- the food and the conversation. And at the end of 10 minutes, you may find you're not hungry anymore.

  • Distract yourself with a drink.

    Enjoy a cup of coffee or hot tea after your entrée. It gives closure to the meal, and you'll have something to do with your hands if someone else is eating dessert.

  • Go fruity.

    Perhaps that craving for something sweet can be satisfied with fresh fruit. Or order fruit ice or sorbet, which usually comes in small portions.

  • Indulge... but only a little.

    If you feel the need to treat yourself, split the dessert with at least one other person. There's room for all foods in your diet -- moderation is the key.

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