I am reminded of the importance of heart health every February by my dear friend and student Star Jones. She has been a heart health devotee and a leader in her commitment to healthy living ever since having open heart surgery in 2010. After her surgery, her cardio rehab program consisted of “sub-max” exercises, performed for only 9 minutes at a time with 1-minute breaks in between. Now, she powers through intense 45-minute SoulCycle classes. She’s a true inspiration. Her transformation has made me wonder: What can we all do to stay on top of our heart health?
Some things — your age, your gender and your family history — can’t be changed. But many factors are in your control. The American Heart Association’s Go Red for Women movement outlines 7 factors within your control that can reduce your risk for heart disease.
Your cholesterol levels. Watch your intake of fried foods, saturated fats and oils and high-fat animal products. Antioxidants, omega-3 fatty acids (avocado!) and whole grains can help lower your cholesterol.
Your blood pressure. Eat a well-balanced, low-sodium diet, limit alcohol and exercise regularly.
Your activity levels. Make sure you are moving at least 30 minutes each day, five days a week.
Your weight. Know your numbers — calculate your BMI to determine if you’re overweight. If you do need to lose some weight, the American Heart Association website also offers advice on how to do so.
Your smoking habit. People who smoke cigarettes are at a higher risk of coronary heart disease, blood clots and all sorts of other problems that aren’t worth it. You can quit. I know you can.
Your blood sugar. Avoid candy and soda as much as possible, and maintain a regular exercise routine. If you’re diabetic, follow your doctor’s recommendations for keeping your diabetes in control.
Your diet. Plan balanced meals ahead of time and keep a food diary to track your habits. Between meals, snack healthy — I’m a big proponent of stocking the fridge with pre-cut fruits and veggies.
That’s a lot to think about, and I know it can get a little overwhelming when you try to tackle everything at once. I just ask you to touch base with yourself today. If you’re curious about any of these topics, visit the American Heart Association website — I think you’ll be blown away by the quality and quantity of information you can access for free. And most importantly, if you’re worried that your heart health may have gotten off track, consult your physician right away.
Stacey Griffith is a senior master instructor at SoulCycle and the author of the upcoming book Two Turns From Zero. Stacey’s motivational coaching style combines a passion for dance, athleticism and mind-blowing music—all set to the beat of her voice. Follow her on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.