On Mother's Day, it's time to celebrate mom with a special meal or a fun family outing. It's also an opportunity to embrace and encourage everyday healthy choices for all women.
A nutritious diet and physical activity are essential in preventing heart disease and promoting overall good health for today and the future. Focusing on that big picture can be motivating, said Norrina Bai Allen, an associate professor of preventive medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago.
"Keep in mind why you are doing it," she said. A healthy lifestyle helps your well-being in the present, and "extends your healthy life."
Stress can harm health because it can contribute to poor lifestyle decisions that can, in turn, impact heart health, Allen said.
"We eat things that we shouldn't be eating. We don't go to the gym or we don't exercise," she said, adding that physical activity is a good way to help combat stress and avoid those unhealthy behaviors. "It lifts your mood, and it's a great stress reliever."
Physical activity is important all year long and too much sedentary time can be detrimental to health. The American Heart Association recommends at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic physical activity per week or 75 minutes of vigorous activity or a combination of the two, preferably spread throughout the week.
Mother's Day is a good time for hiking, walking and enjoying the blooming flowers of springtime, Allen said. "Everyone's getting active, the whole family is doing something together."
For moms with young children, finding time to exercise can seem like a difficult hurdle, but being physically active doesn't have to mean arranging for child care or extending your work day. Allen suggests getting active with the kids by bicycle riding together or walking briskly while they ride bikes. Even dancing and gardening counts.
Physical activity may be easier than a wholesale change of diet. But there, too, the whole family can participate. It is important to limit saturated fats and sodium and to incorporate healthy foods into the family eating plan, such as fruits and vegetables, whole grains and skinless chicken and fish.
New mothers, especially, need to find time to relax and decompress, Allen said. But women – and men – of all ages need to manage stress and get a satisfactory amount of sleep.
"We're understanding a lot more about the effects those factors have on heart disease. You should get high-quality sleep," Allen said. Those who don't get enough sleep are at a higher risk for cardiovascular disease.
To help get proper rest, create the right sleeping environment without lights and other distractions to avoid interruptions, Allen said.
Maintaining a healthy lifestyle during young adulthood is associated with lower cardiovascular disease risk in middle age. Here are a few other suggestions for moms – and everyone – to stay healthy:
- Even if you're a busy mother, find time now for regular medical checkups and have a health care provider check blood pressure, cholesterol and other key measurements.
- Keep tabs on all those numbers related to cardiovascular disease risk and take action to control risk factors to set the stage for a healthier older age.
- Take all prescribed medication for heart disease risk factors as instructed.
The longer risk factors, such as high blood pressure, are left unmanaged, the more damage is done to the body that cannot be undone, Allen said.
Even those in their 60s and 70s can benefit from making healthy lifestyle changes. "Don't say, 'it is what it is,'" Allen said. "It's never too late."
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