That shiny new year feeling may already have passed, but any time is a good time to make a positive change. If you’re interested in pursuing a healthier 2021, start by focusing on cardiovascular health. It’s the foundation for good overall health.
Simple steps can get you on the right path. Bolster your resolve and stay on course with these tips for a healthy lifestyle.
Use healthy eating strategies
Strive to eat nutritiously this year. There’s no need to over-think it.
“Diet continues to be a confusing area for many people trying to live a healthy lifestyle, largely because of the proliferation of diets in the marketplace. But diet does not need to be confusing,” explained Donna Arnett, Ph.D., dean of the University of Kentucky College of Public Health and a past president of the American Heart Association.
“Consider replacing packaged chips or crackers with fruits and vegetables,” Arnett suggested. Another approach is to think about adding color to your plate; colorful fruits and vegetables such as tomatoes, bell peppers, carrots, and blueberries are nutritious, low in calories, and delicious.
Increase your consumption of whole grains. Replace beef with salmon or other fatty fish. Cut out sugar-sweetened beverages. “These simple steps can go a long way towards making our diet healthier,” Arnett noted.
Remember, too, that alcoholic beverages pack calories, so drink only in moderation.1 Another potential effect of alcohol is it can lower inhibitions and lead to poor choices about diet and exercise.
Get up, get moving
Physical activity, another element of cardiovascular health, includes anything that moves your body, gets your heart pumping, and burns calories. Staying active can also help you feel better, sleep better, and perform daily tasks more easily.2
The American Heart Association recommends at least 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity aerobic activity or 75 minutes per week of vigorous activity, or a combination of both. It’s best to spread exercise throughout the week. Try to add muscle-strengthening activity, such as resistance or weights, at least twice a week. Even if you’re working out regularly, avoid too much time sitting.3
With gyms and exercise classes shut down in many areas because of the COVID-19 pandemic, it may be tempting to slack off when it comes to exercise. But there are still plenty of ways to stay active.
“Again, keep it simple. A brisk walk can be as effective as jogging in promoting cardiovascular health, and walking outdoors while allowing for physical distancing is safe during the pandemic,” Arnett said. Consider meeting up with friends to walk together while remaining six feet apart. It’ll keep you moving and reduce social isolation.
Know your numbers
Cardiovascular disease can largely be prevented. Living a healthy lifestyle is the most important action in prevention and managing key health numbers, according to the Guideline on the Primary Prevention of Cardiovascular Disease, co-chaired by Arnett and published in the AHA journal Circulation.4
Pay close attention to your blood pressure, cholesterol, and glucose levels. If lifestyle changes aren’t enough to keep those numbers in normal ranges, medications may be necessary.
“Controlling blood pressure and keeping it below 120/80 mm Hg through lifestyle changes or medication is an essential component for both cardiovascular and brain health,” Arnett explained. Physical activity can help in managing blood pressure.5
Meanwhile, smoking may increase untreated high blood pressure and other risk factors for coronary heart disease.6 “This year is an especially good time to give up smoking or e-cigarette use given COVID-19’s impact on lung health,” Arnett said.
Another number to watch, depending on your age and health condition, is your 10-year estimated risk for cardiovascular disease.4 Your doctor can discuss how this number impacts other aspects of your medical care.
Take COVID-19 precautions
“The coronavirus has illustrated how vital it is to maintain cardiovascular health, including a healthy weight, as a lifelong goal,” Arnett said. Those with severe obesity have been hit hard when it comes to deaths caused by the virus, even more so than those with diabetes or high blood pressure, one study shows.7
Protect yourself and others with COVID-19 safety measures, such as wearing a face covering in public, washing your hands often, maintaining physical distancing of at least six feet, and avoiding crowds. Plan to get the COVID-19 vaccine when it’s available. Be proactive and learn about your state’s plan for administering the vaccine.
“The first two available vaccines, Moderna and Pfizer, require a second booster vaccine,” Arnett noted. Then, the vaccines are up to 95% effective. “Vaccination should be a top priority, particularly for individuals over the age of 65 who have other cardiovascular risk factors,” she said.
One other note: The flu vaccine is important, too. The flu can also cause severe illness and death, and it’s preventable. The CDC recommends that you get a flu vaccine by the end of October; however, January or even later in flu season is not too late for the shot.8
Get some shuteye
Finally, be sure to get an adequate amount of sleep. Sleep has direct and indirect benefits and is increasingly recognized as contributing to good health.
Getting enough sleep can boost your immune system and brain function and help you build muscle. Too little sleep and sleep disorders have been linked to obesity, high blood pressure, Type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular disease. Lack of sleep can also lead to stress and accidents. One in three adults don’t get enough sleep — most adults need seven to nine hours each night.9
So be sure to get your ZZZ’s. It will help as you embark on a healthier lifestyle.
Things to Consider:
- Don’t over-think healthy eating; use simple steps for a nutritious diet.
- Try to get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity throughout the week.
- A healthy lifestyle goes a long way toward managing factors such as blood pressure and cholesterol.
This article was prepared by the American Heart Association (AHA). Transamerica is not affiliated with the AHA and does not control, guarantee, or endorse the information. This information does not constitute the practice of medical advice, diagnosis or treatment .
Transamerica Resources, Inc. is an Aegon company and is affiliated with various companies which include, but are not limited to, insurance companies and broker dealers. Transamerica Resources, Inc. does not offer insurance products or securities. The information provided is for educational purposes only and should not be construed as insurance, securities, ERISA, tax, investment, legal, medical or financial advice or guidance. Please consult your personal independent professionals for answers to your specific questions.
1 “Is Drinking Alcohol Part of a Healthy Lifestyle?” American Heart Association, December 2019
2 “Real-Life Benefits of Exercise and Physical Activity,” National Institute on Aging, April 2020
3 “How Much Physical Activity Do Adults Need?” Centers for Disease Control, October 2020
4 “2019 ACC/AHA Guideline on the Primary Prevention of Cardiovascular Disease,” Circulation, September 2019
5 “Exercise: A Drug-Free Approach to Lowering High Blood Pressure,” Mayo Clinic, December 2019
6 “Heart Disease and Stroke Statistics – 2020 Update,” American Heart Association, January 2020
7 “Obesity and Mortality Among Patients Diagnosed with COVID-19: Results from an Integrated Health Care Organization,” Annals of Internal Medicine, November 2020
8 “Who Needs a Flu Vaccine and When?” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, October 2020
9 “How Sleep Affects Your Health,” American Heart Association, 2020