Your Daily Heart-Healthy Schedule
You might be getting yourself all dolled up on the outside for Valentine’s Day, but take heart that February isn’t all about flowers and candy. It’s Heart Health Month, and certainly a good reminder that “cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death and disability for African American women and kills more African American women than all cancers combined,” says Nieca Goldberg, M.D., a cardiologist and author of the Complete Guide to Women’s Health. “Risk factors particularly important to African American Women are high blood pressure, obesity and physical inactivity.”
But being heart-healthy need not mean you turn your life upside down. Start small, and aim to make each and every day look something like this:
7:00 AM: Get centered. Start you day off with a quick ten-minute deep breathing and meditative practice, like yoga. Yoga has been proven in studies to reduce stress, increase circulation and detoxify the body. Stress reduction is especially important with African American women, because 45% over 20-years-old have high blood pressure, which, if untreated, can lead to stroke and heart failure, says Dr. Goldberg. Follow up your stretching and meditation with a full glass of water.
8:30 AM: Get some color in your breakfast. Keep away from anything white–white bread, white sugar, white flour–all have been overly processed and contain little nutritional value. Instead, get yourself a good blender, like Vitamix, and eat your fruits and vegetables. With a good blender like that, you can grind an entire apple, banana, a handful of blueberries, a salad greens, a couple scoops of protein powder, a liquid or powder vitamin, and some ground flax seed as quick as a snap, and all that fiber and protein will keep you feeling full for hours with even-keeled energy so you don’t feel like you need a nap by noon.
9:00 AM: If you’re a commuter, keep the car vents on inside circulation to reduce inhalation of harmful particulates, which can lead to inflammation and for some, heart and lung problems. Skip listening to anything potentially stressful on the road–opt for a book on CD or some soft, soothing music. Always keep a water bottle in the car and healthy, non-perishable snacks like almonds, dried fruits or protein bars that have not been overly processed, like PureFit, which contains no hydrogenated oils, gluten, artificial sweeteners, hidden carbohydrates or sugar alcohol (my personal fav is the Granola Peanut Butter Crunch. Yummy.)
10:45 AM: Step away from the computer and take a stretch, have a break, and some green tea with a little honey. Green tea contains heart-disease-fighting antioxidants, which coincidentally, helps fight gum disease, which has been linked in studies to heart disease and overall inflammation.
Noon: You packed your lunch, right? Skip the urge to hit the burger joint across the street just because it’s close and you love the chili-cheese fries. Try this yummy idea for a sandwich: whole wheat bread lightly toasted, sliced turkey, lite mayo and some pesto sauce. Pack a green apple and two tablespoons of peanut butter for a sweet treat, or have a square of dark chocolate (also, (yay!) heart-healthy in moderation) for being such a good girl. Then go get another glass of water–the goal is to get in eight by the end of the day.
Before you go back to the grind, use the last ten or fifteen minutes walking. Pick up a pedometer so you can keep track of your steps throughout the day. The goal is 5,000.
3:00 PM: You’re on the last stretch at work, and it’s time to take a little five-minute mental vacation. Want to feel like you’re at the spa? Sprinkle a one or two drops eucalyptus and lavender oil on a tissue, close your eyes, hold it to your nose and breath deeply. Now that’s some quick aromatherapy!
5:30 PM: Get moving. Go to your favorite yoga, pilates, Zumba or kick-boxing class–anything that breaks a sweat at least four times a week. Exercise need not feel like a grind, but you need to do it. Consider it as essential to your life as eating and sleeping. It’s just that important.
6:00 PM: Whatever you do, don’t blow all that work you just put in at the gym with a heavy fatty dinner. Eat till you’re satisfied and here’s a tip to keep those night cravings at bay–sprinkle your food with tasteless and water soluble fiber. Then once you’re full, take your Omegas. “Omega-3 fatty acids are essential for disease prevention and increased quality of life. Aside from their benefit on the heart, brain, and other areas of the body, you can’t ‘feel’ on a daily basis, they also help with joint fluidity and pain reduction,” says Christopher Mohr, PhD, RD, CSSD, fitness and nutritional trainer, and advisory board member on the Nordic Naturals (a popular fish oil supplement).
9:00 PM: Prep your body and your bedroom for sleep. Snoozing a full eight hours is the single most important thing you can do to keep a sound heart, body, and mind. That means taking a warm, relaxing bath with a touch of eucalyptus oil and Epsom salt, and finishing up with some lavender-scented lotion or body oil. Switch off the electronics and turn that annoying red-light alarm clock away from you. If you have trouble falling asleep, try a little melatonin (found in your local health food store or pharmacy), a naturally-occurring hormone that tells your brain it’s time to sleep.
Christelyn D. Karazin is the co-author of Swirling: How to Date, Mate and Relate Mixing Race Culture and Creed (to be released February 2012), and runs a blog, www.beyondblackwhite.com, dedicated to women of color who are interested and or involved in interracial and intercultural relationships. She is also the founder and organizer of “No Wedding, No Womb,” an initiative to find solutions to the 72 percent out-of-wedlock rate in the black community.