Welcome to the Good Ones blog series, written by Wider Circle facilitators and community managers who bring together neighbors for better health every day. In this installment, Robin Anderson-Wood, Area Manager for the San Francisco Bay Area and Sacramento chapters, shares some useful tips we can all benefit from when it comes to protecting our hearts from the #1 killer in America.

It’s February – American Heart Month – and this year heart health education is more important than ever due to the impact of the coronavirus. A lot of older adults in my Wider Circle groups are finding it difficult to stay active and avoid unhealthy comfort foods while spending so much time indoors, which can diminish heart health. In our weekly meetings this month, we’ve enjoyed exchanging practical, easy tips for a stronger, happier heart. They are too good not to share!

1. Watch the salty stuff. Diets high in salt (sodium) can lead to high blood pressure which can lead to heart attack or stroke. One game I like to do with my Wider Circle members is to ask them to go into their pantry and check the nutrition labels of their canned and packaged goods. Canned soup always wins the prize for most sodium, not the salt shaker. 

♥ TIP → There are many delicious salt substitutes you can add to your meals. Try ginger or dill on your salmon, coriander in your curries, and garlic and basil with your pasta! 

2. Beware of the cookie jar. Eating too much sugar can lead to weight gain which can lead to high blood pressure and increase the risk of diabetes and heart disease. When you cut back on sugar, you will likely shed those unwanted pounds.

♥ TIP → Craving sweets? Try my “strawberry candy” instead. Spread berries on a cookie sheet and bake at 250° for 2 hours; turn berries over and bake for 2 more hours. Let cool and enjoy (blueberries work great, too)!

3. Know your “bad fats” from your “good fats”. Butter, margarine, and processed foods like pies, pastries and cakes are not exactly our friends. While there’s nothing wrong with an occasional treat, regular consumption of foods high in saturated fats increase high cholesterol which can lead to heart problems. 

♥ TIP → Swap the bad (saturated) fat for the good (polyunsaturated) fat. Think foods rich in Omega-3 fatty acids, which can lower your cholesterol levels. Fatty fish like salmon and mackerel, as well as spinach, walnuts, flax seeds and canola oil are all excellent sources of Omega-3s.

4. Boost your potassium by loading up on fruits and vegetables. Leafy greens, sweet potatoes, bananas and oranges are excellent sources of potassium. At least 5 servings of potassium-rich fruits and vegetables per day can lower your blood pressure. 

♥ TIP –> Not a fan of salad? Add a big handful of raw spinach to a morning smoothie. Its mellow flavor won’t overpower the taste of your other ingredients. 

5. Fit exercise into your routine – it’s easier than it sounds. Your heart is a muscle, and just like your other muscles you can strengthen it through cardio activity. The American Heart Association recommends at least 150 minutes of exercise a week. That may sound like a lot, but it is very doable if you split it up into chunks — like 3 times for 10 minutes per day, or 30 minutes per day, 5 times per week. 

♥ TIP → No gym or at-home exercise equipment? No problem. A walk around your block or indoor exercises like chair yoga or doing some leg squats while watching TV all count for cardio!

6. Just say no to tobacco. Smoking damages your arteries by forming plaque in your blood vessels which ultimately decreases blood flow to the heart. As a former smoker, I know that quitting is extremely difficult. Many smokers do not quit on their first attempt and find that a combination of resources works best. But the benefits are well worth it — even long-time smokers can see rapid health improvements when they quit. 

♥ TIP → Trying to quit?  Work with your physician on the right plan for you, and check out these CDC-recommended resources: Call 1-800-QUIT-NOW, and visit www.smokefree.gov, as well as www.cdc.gov/tips.

7. Limit your booze. Many of us enjoy relaxing with a glass of wine or beer after a long day or when we are with friends, but too much alcohol can cause high blood pressure, abnormal heart rhythms and heart muscle damage. The National Institute on Alcohol and Alcoholism advises that people aged 65 or older should limit their intake to 7 drinks or less per week, and no more than 1-2 drinks on any one day. (PS: One drink equals 12 ounces of beer or a half a glass of wine).  

♥ TIP → To keep those drinks in check, set a drinking goal. Write your goal on a piece of paper and put it where you will see it every day.

8. Relieve some stress. Let’s face it: everybody stresses. While a small amount of stress can help protect us and keep us focused, studies suggest long-term stress can take a toll on our blood cholesterol, blood pressure and arteries. 

♥ TIP → Exercise and having a strong support network like a friend you can talk to and trust, or belonging to organizations like Wider Circle can reduce your stress level and your risk of heart disease. 

Learn more at the next Wider Circle Town Hall

Join Robin’s Town Hall Talk: “Staying Active for Better Heart Health”, 2/19 and 2/26, at 11am PST. These engaging 1-hour sessions cover stress management, nutrition, chair yoga and other tips for heart-healthy living. To register, call 877-470-0390 or send an email to events@widercircle.com

Ready for more “Good Ones”?

Click here to read our first installment, and check back on our blog page for more each month.

The information included in this blog is for educational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice. 

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About the author: Editorial Team