I read a saying once that health is like money; we never have a true idea of its value until we lose it. With a family history of heart disease, this resonated with me because good health is truly wealth. Genetics plays a big role in a healthy heart, but there are many ways to prevent heart disease, including basic self-care and inspiring others to do the same. Starting with one small change, like having a few meatless meals a week or swapping whole-grain bread for white bread, can make a difference. If you are new to exercise or have been on a hiatus, start with 10-15 minutes of brisk walking or simple calisthenics like jumping jacks or squats. Then gradually increase with the goal of 30 minutes a day.
Keeping track of my weight, blood pressure, and cholesterol is necessary. Still, individual targets are different for everyone and depend on your age, gender, and medical and family history. Some standard marks are:
- blood pressure below 120/80 mm/HG
- body mass index between 18.5 and 25 (see this BMI calculator)
- total cholesterol of less than 200 mg/d
Exercise is essential, but a healthy heart starts in the kitchen. You don’t need to be on a restrictive or fad diet to improve heart health. Instead, if you focus on vegetables, fruit, nuts, beans, whole grains, healthy fats like olive oil, and lean meats (or better yet, wild-caught fish), you can’t go wrong. And avoid added sugar, salt, and highly processed food.
Gradually adding more healthful foods and spending more time exercising can make a difference to your heart and overall health. But caring for your heart also means managing stress. This begins by identifying what causes stress in your life and the adverse outcomes like stress-eating junk food or drinking too much alcohol. Some of the ways I try to manage stress are exercising, meditating, and keeping a positive attitude.
Recipe of the week: Mediterranean White Bean Soup
This vegetarian, heart-healthy soup cooks up quickly and is delicious for leftovers.
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 large onion chopped
2 garlic cloves minced
2-3 large carrots chopped
2-3 celery rib chopped
6 cups low-sodium vegetable broth
1 cup water
½ cup quinoa
1 teaspoon dried thyme
½ teaspoon oregano
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
2 15-ounces canned white beans drained and rinsed
2 cups baby spinach
Grated Parmesan cheese for serving
In a large pot, heat olive oil over medium high heat. Add onions and cook until translucent, about 3-5 minutes. Add the garlic, carrots, celery, thyme, oregano, salt, and pepper, and cook for an additional 2-3 minutes.
Add vegetable broth, water, quinoa, and beans, bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 15 minutes to combine the flavors together and cook the quinoa.
Stir in the spinach and continue to simmer until the spinach wilts, about 2 minutes. Remove from heat, sprinkle grated Parmesan cheese, if desired, and serve immediately.