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5 Heart-Healthy Habits to Start Now


5 Heart-Healthy Habits to Start Now

Al Waller: Taking good care of your heart – exercising, eating healthy, and getting regular checkups – are, of course, essential for good health and for your heart. However, there is a lot of research on actionable practices you can start today to not only help your heart health but also prevent other chronic diseases from arising.

Welcome back to ClearPath—Your Roadmap to Health & WealthSM. I’m your host, Al Waller, and joining me is Mihaela Vincze, public health expert for nonprofit Transamerica Institute®, and today, she’ll be discussing practical ways to care for your heart.

But before we get started, I want to remind you that we would love to hear from you and learn what topics you would like us to cover. Please drop me or Mihaela a note at [email protected].

So Mihaela, it’s great to have you back.

Mihaela Vincze: It’s great to be back.

Al Waller: Why is it important to choose healthy habits that will prevent heart disease?

Mihaela Vincze: When you choose to practice healthy behaviors, not only can you lower your risk of heart disease, but you can also reduce the risk for other severe chronic conditions like type 2 diabetes and some types of cancer, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In this episode, I’d like to focus on practices you can begin today to help you take charge of your heart health.

Al Waller: Well, that sounds like a great idea! What is your advice to help us prioritize our heart health?

Mihaela Vincze: My first tip is that you should avoid being sedentary for too long. Prolonged periods of inactivity and too much sitting overall seem to increase the risk of death from cardiovascular disease, according to a study published in JAMA Cardiology. If you must sit for prolonged periods, for instance, if you work in an office, taking frequent breaks can help offset some of the risks. Five minutes of walking every half hour can help ease some of the risks of sitting for long stretches of the day, according to a study published in the American College of Sports Medicine journal.

Al Waller: That is great advice, especially with the rise in remote work and courses being offered online now, which might take away your opportunity to get extra steps in. Do you have some ideas to get us moving more?

Mihaela Vincze: Yes, I can offer a few!

  • Set alarms to remind you to get moving (some smartwatches also have this “alert” function, which can nudge you to get moving). Drinking more water throughout the day also inadvertently leads to more walking, since you’ll need more bathroom breaks.
  • If you work in an office setting, walk with your colleagues for meetings rather than sitting in a conference room. If you work from home, perhaps you can also take certain calls while going for a walk. It may be a good idea to check in with your manager first.
  • Take an exercise class on your lunch break. Especially now, with so many exercise classes being available online, this can be done from the comfort of wherever you are.
  • Lastly, if you have a dog, find more excuses to walk them! Sometimes people neglect to do this, especially if they have a yard. Your dog and heart will thank you.

Al Waller: I love these great excuses to get outside and get your body moving! How else can we support our heart health?

Mihaela Vincze: My second tip is to get enough high-quality rest. Getting good sleep isn’t just important for keeping you awake during the day—it’s also essential for your heart health. In June of 2022, the American Heart Association added sleep duration to its cardiovascular health checklist, now called “Life’s Essential 8.”

This change was enacted because researchers at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health found that study participants, who slept less than seven hours, had a higher incidence of heart disease risk factors like obesity, high blood pressure, and type 2 diabetes.

Al Waller: That is alarming and pretty important to address here, Mihaela, because if I don't get enough sleep, besides being like a bear to be around, I'm just not at my best. I think following your advice makes a lot of sense. Now, do you have some ideas to get us to sleep better?

Mihaela Vincze: Some ideas to get good sleep:

  • Avoid electronic devices before bed.
  • Avoid caffeine, alcohol, and large meals before bed.
  • Sleep in a dark, quiet place set at a cool temperature.
  • Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day, even on the weekends.
  • Get sunlight as soon as you wake up.

Al Waller: I know I feel like a better person when I get the proper sleep, so protecting my heart health is just another reason to ensure I make that positive change in my daily routine. How else can we look out for our heart day-to-day?

Mihaela Vincze: My third tip is to avoid secondhand smoke. According to the CDC, adults who do not smoke and are exposed to secondhand smoke increase their risk of developing coronary heart disease by a whopping 25–30%.

The US Surgeon General also has concluded that there is no level of exposure to secondhand smoke that is without risk to your health. To prevent exposure to secondhand smoke, avoid spending time in environments where smoking is permissible.

Al Waller: Secondhand smoke can be sneaky, but this is an excellent reminder that our environments play a significant role in our health. That said, how else can we support ourselves toward a healthy heart?

Mihaela Vincze: Find ways to de-stress. Managing stress is good for your overall health and well-being but especially for your heart health. Negative mental health is associated with an increased risk of heart disease and stroke, whereas positive mental health is associated with a lower risk of heart disease and death, according to the American Heart Association.

Al Waller: That’s fascinating. Sometimes de-stressing is easier said than done – do you have any tips to help us de-stress in our daily lives? 

Mihaela Vincze: Some ideas to reduce stress:

  • Deep breathing can help bring more oxygen into your body, decrease the level of cortisol, and temporarily lower blood pressure. It also doesn’t take long—the 4-4-8 breathing technique can help calm your nervous system. Simply breathing in through your nose for 4 long seconds, pausing for 4 seconds, and exhaling through your mouth for 8 seconds, a total 4 times can have this profound effect.
  • Find time to unplug. Avoid the news and take a break from your smartphone every day.
  • Find opportunities to get active. Move your body to release mood-boosting chemicals that can help you lower your blood pressure and strengthen your heart muscles.

Al Waller: That is great advice to implement when feeling stressed. What’s your last tip for heart health?

Mihaela Vincze: My fifth tip has to do with diet, and it is to avoid saturated and trans-fat. A study published in 2021 in the Journal of Nutrition & Food Sciences asserts that trans-fatty acids–often found in vegetable oils–are associated with multiple cardiovascular risk factors such as coronary heart disease.

Al Waller: Yes, I’ve heard of that. Does this mean we should avoid all fats in our diet?

Mihaela Vincze: Just because you’re avoiding saturated and trans-fat doesn’t mean you can’t have fats at all. Polyunsaturated fats, found in certain fish, avocados, nuts, and seeds, are good fat alternatives to butter, lard, cream sauce. Monounsaturated fats—found in olive and canola oil are also ok, according to Mayo Clinic.

Al Waller: Thank you, Mihaela, for joining me today to tell us 5 practical tips to protect our heart health. We now know the dangers of sitting for too long, not getting enough sleep, exposing yourself to secondhand smoke, experiencing stress, and consuming unhealthy fats. Where can listeners go to learn more about caring for their heart health?

Mihaela Vincze: If you want to learn more we recommend visiting Heart.org for the American Heart Association’s science-based health checklist entitled “Life’s Essential 8”.

Al Waller: If you’d like to check out any of the source materials mentioned today, visit transamericainstitute.org/podcast to review the episode’s transcript.

If you have comments, feedback, or topic ideas, please contact [email protected]. Don’t forget to hit that subscribe button so that you don’t miss an episode of ClearPath—Your Roadmap to Health & Wealth.

And in case you missed them, check out our previous episodes on Psychological First Aid: Responding to Trauma and the 6 Ways SECURE 2.0 Boosts Retirement Security. In addition, we will be discussing topics regarding women and retirement, as well as health screening for women in the coming weeks.

Until the next time, I’m your host Al Waller. Stay safe, be well and thanks for listening.

ClearPath – Your Roadmap to Health & Wealth is brought to you by Transamerica Institute, a nonprofit private foundation dedicated to identifying, researching, and educating the public about health and wellness, employment, financial literacy, longevity, and retirement.

You can find our weekly podcast on WYPR’s website and mobile app, wherever you get your podcasts, and at transamericainstitute.org/podcast.

ClearPath – Your Roadmap to Health & Wealth is produced by the Transamerica Institute with assistance from WYPR.

The information provided here is for educational purposes only and should not be construed as insurance, securities, ERISA, tax, investment, legal, medical, or financial advice or guidance.

Al Waller is a long-time Baltimore native and employment expert with a 30-year career in leading and advising locally and globally based corporations on matters including: Talent Acquisition and Retention, Employee Relations, Training and Development.
Mihaela Vincze is a public health expert and experienced health care educator. Serving as Transamerica Institute’s health care content developer, she shares insights on health and wellness on ClearPath—Your Roadmap to Health and WealthSM. Mihaela earned her master’s and bachelor’s degrees in public health at California State University, Northridge.