health as it happens

To Your Health: Reclaim heart health this summer - Wilkes Barre Times-Leader

With its long, sunny days and endless possibilities for activity and adventure, summer is an ideal time to begin new and healthy habits.

Over the last year and a half, as we’ve braced for and reacted to the COVID-19 pandemic in our community, it’s been easy to get into a routine that’s not great for maintaining heart health. Many of us have been less active than we’d normally be as we sheltered in place and avoided public places. We’ve also gotten away from diets that promote wellness as we opted to order take out more frequently or purchased groceries that were more convenient than good for us.

Perhaps some of us have even let the stress of the last year make us revert to habits we thought we’d left behind for good, like smoking or drinking more alcohol than prudent.

But these tendencies can be changed with a bit of intent and determination, especially in Northeastern Pennsylvania where we have an inviting natural landscape and a wealth of locally grown produce. Today, let’s review a few ways to get back to a lifestyle that’s better for your cardiovascular health and overall wellness.

Get outside

Exercise is key to any heart-healthy lifestyle. The more you move, the better chance you have of lowering cholesterol and blood pressure and reducing your risk of cardiovascular disease and serious events like heart attack and stroke.

Let these beautiful summer days and the sublime scenery of our region get you outside. Start slow, if it’s been a while since you’ve exercised.

Head to the nearest state park and take a walk along a wooded path or around a lake. Breathe the fresh air, take in the sights of the lush greenery or placid water, and listen to the songs of the wildlife around you. You might not even notice you’re exercising until you realize you’ve been walking for a while and it might be time to rest or drink some water.

As you settle into a routine of regular exercise, consider graduating to more vigorous exercise like a moderately challenging hike or a cool swim. Be sure to exercise with a partner as you begin to challenge yourself. You can encourage each other and keep each other safe.

Eat plants

Everywhere you turn these days, whether you’re downtown in your local city or going for a country drive, you happen upon a farmers’ market or produce stand.

Take advantage!

We know the ideal diet for heart health is heavy in fruits and vegetables and includes lean proteins like fish, beans and nuts. Scour these produce tables for leafy greens, ripe tomatoes, red and golden beets, and mushrooms of many varieties. Don’t forget to satisfy your sweet tooth with peaches, plums and berries. And as the season nears its end and we get into fall, look out for those apples and pears. The best part about these local merchants is their produce is always changing. Every time you go, you’ll have an opportunity to taste something different.

Kick those habits for good

If you’ve either started or revisited a smoking habit during the stressful time we’ve endured, stop as soon as you can. Smoking is the worst thing you can do for your overall health, not to mention the specific havoc it wreaks on your blood vessels and circulation.

I know it’s addicting and a difficult practice to quit, but it will pay off in droves once you do. If you’re having trouble quitting on your own, talk to your doctor who may suggest a smoking cessation program or another alternative to help you achieve a cigarette-free life.

For those of us who have leaned too heavily on alcohol during the pandemic, now’s a good time to moderate that habit as well. Too much alcohol consumption can lead to weight gain, raise blood pressure levels, and induce heart-rhythm disorders.

Replace that extra drink with an after-dinner walk or some time in your garden. Lower your stress levels with exercise and active, healthy hobbies.

If your drinking has become a problem for you, your family or at work, ask your doctor for help. There are plenty of resources out there to help you get and stay sober, and reclaim your health.