Jefferson University Hospitals

The Balancing Act

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Women and Heart Disease

For many women, the path to good health is not an easy one, with plenty of roadblocks along the way. Family obligations, work demands, procrastination and lack of time and energy are only a few issues that can get in the way of making positive, sustainable lifestyle changes.

Did you know it takes 21 days to break a habit but more than 60 days to make a new one? That may help explain why it's so hard to make and sustain changes in your life. Keep that in mind as you look at the Big 5 when it comes to heart health.

Eat for Health

  • Emphasize fruits, vegetables, whole grains and fat-free or low-fat milk and milk products.
  • Include lean meats, poultry, fish, beans, eggs and nuts in your diet — look for some heart-healthy recipes.
  • Choose foods that are low in saturated fats, trans fats, cholesterol, salt and sodium, as well as added sugar.
  • Balance the calories you take in with the calories you need. Tip: Snacking is OK – as long as you make healthy choices. The next time you're reaching to munch between meals, reach for one of these heart-healthy options:
    • 100 percent fruit juices
    • Vegetable sticks (try a dab of reduced-fat peanut butter on celery)
    • Fat-free frozen yogurt, sherbet or sorbet
    • Low-fat cookies – animal crackers, graham crackers, ginger snaps or fig bars are good choices
    • Low-fat crackers – melba toast or rice, rye and soda crackers (opt for unsalted or low-sodium varieties)
    • Air-popped popcorn – hold the salt and butter!
    • Fat-free, low-sodium pretzels
    • Fresh or dried fruit or fruits canned in their own juice

Aim for a Healthy Weight

  • Watch calories; cut 500 to 1,000 from your daily intake.
  • Keep milk on the menu but make it low fat or fat free.
  • Keep moving.
  • Steer clear of fast food.
  • Forget the fads.
  • Get support.
  • Lock in your losses by continuing to eat nutritious, lower-calorie meals and by getting 60 to 90 minutes of moderate physical activity.
  • Tip: Write things down! Regularly record your daily calorie intake and your physical activity, along with changes in your weight. Doing so will help you stay focused and motivated. It also helps your healthcare provider to figure out which behaviors you may want to improve.

Manage Stress

It is not a myth, it is not an excuse, it is not something you can ignore — there is a correlation between the level of stress you experience on a regular basis and your health. We don't know if stress itself is, in and of itself, a risk factor of heart disease or if stress triggers other risk factors. What we do know is that if you are chronically stressed, your blood pressure goes up; you may be more willing to reach for those comfort foods like ice cream, desserts and carbs; you may smoke more; or exercise less.

It's important to manage stress. Here are a few tips:

  • Eat a healthy diet and exercise regularly. A nutritious, well-balanced diet and exercise can keep your body fit and able to resist disease. Exercise is an excellent way to elevate your mood.
  • Talk about your stressful situations with someone you trust. Sometimes, just talking about your problems and concerns can help you put them into perspective and give you insights into ways to deal with them.
  • Stay organized to help manage your time more efficiently.
  • Remember, no one can do it all alone, so ask for help.
  • Use relaxation techniques to calm your mind and body.
  • Get professional help if you need it.

Move More

  • Instead of taking the elevator, use the stairs; start with one flight at a time if you need to.
  • Park a few blocks from the office or store; if you use public transportation, get off at an earlier stop to extend your walk.
  • Skip dessert and take a brisk walk around the block instead.
  • Do your housework and yard work at a faster, more intense pace.
  • When traveling, don't sit around and wait; use the time to walk around the airport or train, bus or subway station.
  • While watching television, use hand weights, do some yoga stretches or ride an exercise bike. (Better yet, turn off the TV and the computer.)
  • Tip: Take a midday "movement break" by getting up, stretching and walking around. Doing so will give your muscles – and your mind – time to relax.

Stop Smoking

  • Get motivated by spending time thinking of all the benefits of quitting the habit – including saving money.
  • Pick a quit date about two weeks away – long enough to prepare but not too far into the future.
  • Consider using an aid, such as a patch, gum, inhaler, nasal spray or lozenges; you may want to talk to your doctor about prescription medications as well.
  • Line up support among family, friends and co-workers by asking them to encourage you and to not smoke around you.
  • Tip: Make a fresh start by removing all the cigarettes from your home, car and workplace. Dispose of ashtrays, matches and lighters. And give your house a deep cleaning to remove odors from carpets and drapes.

Set Realistic Goals

Our physicians believe it is important to start small and do what works for you. Deciding you are going to lose 100 pounds, stop smoking, cook healthy every night and exercise every day is not only daunting, it may be impossible. Start with one area you want to focus on and set realistic goals. Write down your goals and make a plan. Keep track of your progress and don't beat yourself up if there are setbacks.