Take preventive measures today to take care of your heart and body. In the past few months, the U.S. has witnessed one of the worst flu seasons since the swine-flu pandemic of 2009. A recent study suggests that the flu doesn’t just cause aches, chills, and fatigue but it may also increase the risk of a heart attack. The study shows a six-fold increase in heart attacks shortly after people get the flu.1
The Flu Season
The flu season usually begins in October or November and peaks between December and February, and can last as late as May, according to the CDC. Each year, the flu is estimated to cause between 12,000 and 56,000 deaths and up to 710,000 hospitalizations in the U.S.1
The CDC recommends that everyone 6 months and older get an annual flu shot. The American Heart Association and American College of Cardiology recommend the shot for people with heart disease.
Another way to protect yourself against disease is to improve your heart health. The American Heart Association has started a ‘Healthy For Good’ revolutionary movement to inspire you to create lasting change in your health and your life, one small step at a time. The following are excellent ways to boost your immune system and prevent diseases.
Eat Smart to Stay Healthy
A healthy diet and lifestyle are your best weapons against cardiovascular disease. Eating healthy doesn’t mean dieting or giving up the foods you love.
- Eat more plants! When you eat a vegetarian diet, be sure to add foods rich in iron, Vitamin B12, Calcium, and Zinc.
- Limit sweets, fatty or processed meats, solid fats like butter, and salty or highly processed foods.
- Avoid bad fats (solid or saturated fats from animal sources like meat, dairy, and tropical oils) and incorporate healthier fats (nontropical liquid oils, nuts and seeds, avocados, and fatty fish) into your diet.
- Stock your kitchen with fruits, vegetables, lean protein, and whole grains. Ditch the processed and junk foods!
- Instead of eliminating foods you love, concentrate on eating smaller portions.
- Eat reasonable portions, even when you’re served more than you need (Split an entrée when dining out).
A good starting goal is at least 150 minutes a week, but if you don’t want to sweat the numbers, just move more! Find forms of exercise you enjoy and will stick with, and build more opportunities to be active into your routine.
- Start walking – begin with a few minutes each day, and add more minutes each week.
- Find ways to make walking fun, whether that’s changing your route, inviting friends or listening to your favorite podcast.
- Don’t skip out on your warm-up, 5-10 minutes is a good rule of thumb.
- Get the whole family moving – adding exercise is easier when it’s a shared activity.
- Make time during a busy day for activity by going for a brisk walk during your lunch break or taking the stairs as often as possible.
- Cool down after a workout to help your body reset and recover a little bit easier – this is the best time to stretch when your muscles are still warm.
- Turn TV time into a workout – during every commercial break do a body weight exercise (squats, push ups, jumping jacks).
An easy first step to eating healthy is to include fruits and vegetables at every meal and snack. All forms (fresh, frozen, canned and dried) and all colors count, so go ahead and add color to your plate – and your life!
- To mix up your spaghetti routine, add an imposter pasta such as one made from black bean, edamame, chick pea or a vegetable pasta such as zucchini noodles.
- Roast vegetables in high heat to caramelize and bring out their natural flavors; don’t overdo it with salt or sauces.
- Grill fruits to unlock a deeper sweetness and give their color some char.
- Add color to your plate with the 5 main color groups: red and pink, blue and purple, yellow and orange, white and brown and green. Check out healthyforgood.heart.org for examples from each group.
- Look at your plate each time you eat, and if it’s too beige, add a serving of fruits or vegetables.
- Go meatless – add mushrooms in place of beef, go with veggies and beans in your stir fry or use thick cut eggplant in place of chicken.
Along with eating right and being active, better health requires getting enough sleep, practicing mindfulness, managing stress, keeping your mind and body fit, and connecting socially.
- Be more active, limit caffeine before bed, and establish a better sleep routine.
- Neutralize your racing mind by acknowledging thoughts as they come and letting them pass freely.
- Focus on healthy outlets for stress, like taking a walk, journaling, volunteering or a hobby that you love.
- Take time out for you – use your vacation days, whether you go on a big trip or just hang at home for a staycation.
- Don’t overlook your emotional and mental health – get help if you need it to manage stress, anxiety, depression or grief.
- Practice deep breathing techniques by inhaling through your nose and exhaling through your mouth slowly and deliberately.
- Take preventive measures to avoid stress, like leaving a few minutes earlier to avoid being late, or avoiding busy roads so you can stay calm while driving.
- In high-anxiety situations, give yourself some space – take a walk and come back later when tensions subside.
Prevent the Flu
- The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends a yearly flu vaccine as the first and most important step in protecting against the flu viruses.
- Try to avoid close contact with sick people.
- While sick, limit contact with others as much as possible to keep from infecting them.
- If you are sick with a flu-like illness, CDC recommends that you stay home for at least 24 hours after your fever is gone except to get medical care or for other necessities. (Your fever should be gone for 24 hours without the use of a fever-reducing medicine.)
- Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. Throw the tissue in the trash after you use it.
- Wash your hands often with soap and water. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand rub.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth. Germs spread this way.
- Clean and disinfect surfaces and objects that may be contaminated with germs like the flu.
- If you get the flu, antiviral drugs can be used to treat your illness.
- Antiviral drugs are prescription medicines and are not available over-the-counter.
- Antiviral drugs can make illness milder and shorten the time you are sick. They may also prevent serious flu complications.2
- American Heart Association: https://news.heart.org/flu-blankets-nation-new-study-links-virus-heart-attacks/
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: https://www.cdc.gov/flu/consumer/prevention.htm