Healthy Fats for Heart Health

Eating healthy foods can be one of the most important actions you can take to protect your heart, but the definition of “healthy” can sometimes seem confusing. Recent research has changed the longtime belief that a healthy diet is also low in fat. Instead, your doctor may recommend eating the right kinds of fat that can be found in a Mediterranean Diet.

The Mediterranean Diet refers to the way people eat in countries that border the Mediterranean Sea. People in these countries eat a lot of fish, olive oil, fruits, and vegetables and often have better health outcomes and longer life expectancy than people in the United States. Although the diet is high in fat, it is mostly monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fat, which can be good for your heart.

The diet focuses on eating healthy fats, and includes fish, olive oil, nuts, and other foods that have high levels of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. These fats can help lower blood cholesterol and the risk of heart disease. You should avoid saturated fats and transfats.

The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute recommends eating vegetables, fruits, whole grains, fat-free or low-fat dairy products, fish, lean meats, poultry, eggs, nuts, seeds, soy products, legumes and vegetable oils as part of a heart-healthy diet. It also recommends limiting sodium, saturated and transfats, added sugars, and alcohol. This is considered a healthy eating plan in the U.S.

Some ways to add more healthy fats into your diet include:

  • Eating a handful of nuts
  • Adding nut butter to an apple
  • Eating fish 2-3 times a week
  • Adding avocado to a salad
  • Using full-fat salad dressings and mayonnaise.

The primary differences between the Mediterranean Diet and the healthy U.S. eating plan is that the Mediterranean Diet has less dairy and more fruits. You should discuss any changes to your diet with your doctor, and he or she can help you choose the healthy eating plan that is best for you.

Learn more here:

https://health.gov/dietaryguidelines/2015/guidelines/appendix-4/

https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health-topics/heart-healthy-lifestyle-changes#heart-healthy-eating

Staying active in summertime heat

Summertime can be a great time to find new activities to add to your exercise routine. However, higher temperatures can also create new concerns, especially for patients with a diagnosis of heart failure. But the heat doesn’t have to mean you can’t exercise. Described below are tips for exercising in the heat to help you take full advantage of summertime fun. It is a good idea to talk with your doctor before starting a new exercise program.

  • Listen to your body. Increased heat means that your muscles work harder to move, which puts more stress on your heart. If your heart rate feels irregular or you stop sweating, stop exercising and go inside immediately to cool down. Other warning signs include a headache, muscle cramps, dizziness, weakness, nausea or vomiting, or confusion The National Institute of Aging has more information how to be safe in hot weather.
  • Make a schedule and stick to it. The CONNECT-HF activity tracker is a great way to log your workouts and include notes about how you felt during the exercise. This is a useful tool to share with your doctor to help you find the best summer exercise plan for you.
  • Exercise early. Early morning hours are the best time to avoid summertime heat and humidity. It is also the time of day when air quality is at its best. Your local news will alert you when air quality is too low for exercise, or you can check the AirNow.gov website. Lower impact exercise, such as a walk, can be done in the evening, but humidity is often higher after the sun goes down.
  • Wear light, loose fitting clothing. Dark color or tight fitting can increase your body temperature, even performance exercise clothing designed to wick away moisture. You might also want to avoid cotton as it can retain sweat and get heavier as you exercise.
  • Jump in the pool. If your neighborhood or community has an outdoor pool, swimming can be a fun way to get active and stay cool. Many local pools have dedicated lap swim times, and swimming is an excellent way for heart patients to build muscle strength and heart stamina.
  • Explore yoga and tai-chi. Strength and flexibility are very important for overall physical health, and yoga and tai-chi can be a gentle way to increase your strength and flexibility without getting your heart rate up. Many hotels offer yoga on the beach or in a courtyard to help you stay active even while traveling.
  • Stay hydrated. It is important to drink water both before and after your workout, and if you are going on a long walk or run, carry a water bottle with you, too. Freezing the bottle ahead of time means you’ll have an instant cool pack with you and can enjoy cold water during your workout.
  • Stay inside if you are more comfortable. If it’s too hot to be outside, there are many exercises you can do inside your home, at a local gym, or at a mall. Many malls offer walking groups. Check out this information on the benefits of mall walking from the National Institute on Aging at the National Institutes of Health. Another exercise well suited for indoors are chair exercises. The Internet offers a number of videos on chair exercises that can be easily performed anywhere.

Meet a Cardi-Yack: Fredonia

Using her own personal experiences, Fredonia Williams hopes to make a difference in the CONNECT-HF study and in the lives of people recently diagnosed with heart failure. Support for patients with heart failure is extremely important and other patients who are experts by experience are well suited to provide valuable insights to both patients and doctors.

Fredonia is a patient adviser, also known as a Cardi-Yack, in the CONNECT-HF study. Fredonia has had opportunities to interact with heart patients, cardiologists, and researchers. She believes that patient input can help researchers tweak a research question with the ultimate goal of better health for all. We invite you to watch this video to hear from Fredonia on how patients can support other patients, doctors, and researchers.

 

Out with the Old, In with the New: Spring Cleaning Old Habits

Spring is here, and the newly sprouted greenery and blossoming flowers have us all in the mood for a fresh start. What kind of old habits do you want to break? Whether it’s smoking, indulging in sweets, or sitting in front of the television, we all have routines we know aren’t the best for us. The CONNECT-HF Study team encourages people with heart failure to continue working on creating healthy habits. Small changes to your lifestyle may be helpful in controlling heart failure symptoms. Here are three unexpected ways you can spring-clean some old habits and blossom into a new, heart-healthier you.

1. Stop trying to break your old habits.

Yes, this sounds like the opposite of spring cleaning, but hear this out. Most of our brains are not designed to respond well to what are called negative goals, such as: “I’m not going to eat sweets today.” Instead, try framing your goals positively: “After dinner, when I typically want to eat sweets, I will take a walk instead.” The truth is, when we talk about breaking habits, what we really want are new, more positive habits. Instead of thinking about what you can’t have, think of what you will do instead.

2. Talk to yourself.

In the moments before we engage in an old habit, a rapid conversation with ourselves is often going on in our minds. We know we shouldn’t eat that cake, but it’s as if a chorus of supporters live in our brains and come up with reasons why we should. “You deserve this! You’ve had a bad day, and this cake will make it better.” Before you make that choice, force yourself to say these excuses out loud. When you tune into them and listen carefully, they will likely sound a little silly and lose some of their power.

3. Prepare for new habits to feel strange at first.

When we break an old habit, the beginning of the process is the most difficult. Before we feel the positive changes of a new us, our minds try hard to convince us to return to our old ways. It can be mentally exhausting, and we may start to doubt that we have the willpower to sustain our new habit. The trick is to remember that this uncomfortable feeling is temporary, and it will get easier—a lot easier. In fact, your new lifestyle will actually make you a much happier person if you stick with it.

Are you motivated to spring clean your old ways? ‘Tis the season for reinvention, so leave one of your old habits in the dust today! For more helpful tips from the CONNECT-HF Study Team, visit our healthy living tips page.

Read Two CONNECT-HF Publications

CONNECT-HF investigators have teamed up to write two new publications about improving heart failure care and outcomes.

The publications, Improving heart failure health: is there a secret Swedish sauce? and Leveraging Behavioral Economics to Improve Heart Failure Care and Outcomes both look at different ways researchers are trying to help people with heart failure.

About Improving heart failure health: is there a secret Swedish sauce?

Improving heart failure health: is there a secret Swedish sauce? is an editorial comment authored by two CONNECT-HF investigators. It looks at the results of a registry study in Sweden to comment on whether the data was strong enough to claim that patients who took part in the study received better care for heart failure compared to patients who did not take part.

This commentary also looks at an American Study called Get with the Guidelines, to compare it with the Swedish study. The commentary concludes that the evidence published from the Swedish registry study is not enough to say whether it patients received better care by joining in. Finally, the commentary introduces readers to the CONNECT-HF trial and the idea of involving patients in study design. Read this editorial comment here.

About Leveraging Behavioral Economics to Improve Heart Failure Care and Outcomes

Leveraging Behavioral Economics to Improve Heart Failure Care and Outcomes looks at how we can use people’s everyday behaviors to help understand what leads to heart failure, and therefore understand how we can improve life for people with heart failure. This publication looks at why people behave the way they do. One example is the intent-behavior gap, where a patient with heart failure may intend to take their medications every day when they’re first diagnosed, but then find out that it’s harder than they thought and give up. The publication also looks at different ways to change these behaviors, such as signing goal contracts, financial rewards, social rewards, and more. Read this publication here.

Other CONNECT-HF news

In addition to these publications, there have been several news stories published on CONNECT-HF, including one on MobiHealth News and a video on MedScape.

As always, you can stay up to date with recent CONNECT-HF news here. Check back for more news in the future!

3 Ways to Stay Heart Healthy During the Holidays

Stay heart healthy this season with these simple tips

The holidays are coming up and while they can be a cheery time of year, they may also bring unhealthy temptations and stress along with them. It can feel difficult, but it’s important to stay on track and keep up your heart healthy routine even during the holidays.

Whether you’re faced with the temptations of eating treats, skipping your usual exercise routine, the stress of visitors, or something else, there are plenty of ways to overcome the holiday slump and stay heart healthy during this time of year. We’re here to encourage you with three ideas to help you stay heart healthy this holiday season.

1. Get creative with your exercise routine.

It can be tempting to skip your exercise routine in favor of holiday activities, but it doesn’t have to be one or the other. Think outside of the box to incorporate some holiday cheer into your exercise routine. Perhaps you can take a new walking route to see all the holiday lights in a different neighborhood. Or, opt out of holiday shopping online and shop in person instead. Walking around the mall or an outdoor shopping center is a great way to get exercise and mark off your to-do list! Even decorating your own home for the holidays may become a great workout. There are many great and fun ways to get your exercise in.

 

2. Offer to bring a heart healthy dish.

Heading to a holiday gathering with lots of unhealthy food? Offer to bring a dish, and choose something heart-healthy. That way you know there will be something healthy there, and you won’t have to worry about whether you’ll be able to snack with everyone else. Bring vegetables and dip arranged in a holiday shape, or make a festive fruit tray out of holiday colored fruits. Don’t be afraid to get creative! Not only will you have a delicious snack, but the host will also be thankful for your contribution! Learn more about heart-healthy eating habits here.

3. Plan ahead.

The holidays can be fun, but for many people they can also cause stress. If you’re prone to stress, try to plan ahead this year. Start shopping early, so you don’t have to do it all at once. Or, if you have family coming in town, ask them to help out around the house. They may be happy to have a way to help! If you’re traveling out of town, give yourself plenty of time to arrive and pack a stress-fighter bag filled with things that keep you calm and relaxed.

 

 

And remember, if you do start to get off track, it’s never too late to get back on track. The sooner the better. And hey, by the time the New Year comes around, friends and family may be asking you to help them with their resolutions!

Celebrate World Heart Day With Heart-Healthy Activities

Did you know that September 29 is World Heart Day? That’s right – a whole day dedicated to heart health awareness!

In honor of World Heart Day, the World Heart Foundation is reminding people that small changes can make a big difference when it comes to heart health. They’re also encouraging people around the world to share how they keep their heart healthy, and to help inspire others to become heart healthy.

As you may already know, the CONNECT-HF team is all for heart health, which is why we want our study team, participants, and others to celebrate World Heart Day! Whether you simply want to brush up on your heart health, try a new heart-healthy recipe, or get out to exercise, there are many ways to celebrate World Heart Day. To help you get started, here are a few ways to celebrate:

3 Ways to Celebrate World Heart Day

      1. Brush up on your heart health knowledge

Want to learn more about living with heart failure? Take a look through our heart failure infographic. Or, if you want to test your knowledge about heart health, head over to the World Heart Day website to take a heart IQ test. There, you will also find more information, tips, and videos about heart health.

      2. Get out and exercise

Few things say heart health like a good exercise session! Whether you take a long walk around your neighborhood, play a sport with friends, or do some light housework or gardening, it all counts as exercise. If you need a few ideas for ways to spice up your exercise routine, take a look at our exercising with heart failure tips. Remember, you should always talk to your doctor about how active you should be.

      3. Create a new heart healthy recipe

Deciding what to eat can be difficult. When it comes to your diet, it can be easy to get into a routine that begins to feel boring. Why don’t you challenge yourself to create a new recipe using heart healthy ingredients? Not only will you have a fun challenge, but you will also come out with a new recipe to add to your routine! Take a look at the American Heart Association Guidelines for a healthy diet to get good ideas for ingredients.

And of course you can always come up with your own heart health celebration. Whatever you do, have fun and celebrate heart health on September 29!

Meet the Cardi-Yacks: Kirsten

Earlier this year, the CONNECT-HF team brought six participant advisers to Durham, NC to give input on the CONNECT-HF trial. Not only did we work with the participant advisers (the Cardi-Yacks) to gain valuable insights into the experience of living with heart failure, but we also had the opportunity to get to know each of these wonderful individuals personally.

Over the next few months, we will be sharing their stories with you. A main message the Cardi-Yacks wanted to tell other people with heart failure is: “You are not alone.” We hope that these videos will be meaningful to those with heart failure and their loved ones.

In this video, we introduce you to Kirsten, a mother who was diagnosed with heart failure at 40 years old. This is Kirsten’s story:

 

5 Ways to Get Started with Exercise

Start a new exercise routine with these tips

Are you thinking about starting a new exercise routine? You may have heard people talk about the benefits of exercise, but what does that really mean?

Physical activity can strengthen our hearts, improve overall well-being, and increase energy levels. And guess what? You don’t have to start running a marathon to reap these benefits. Even a little bit of exercise can go a long way in improving health.

And the other good news? These benefits are not specific to certain groups of people. Everyone can benefit from some type of exercise. In fact, it is especially important for people with heart failure to stay physically active. However, when thinking of new ways to include exercise in your daily routine, it is important to remember that starting slow is best. When starting a new routine, it’s smart to take it easy, build up strength, and, as always, consult your doctor before trying something new. Getting started may seem hard, but it doesn’t have to be. Below are some tips and tricks to help you get moving!

1. Talk to your doctor about how much exercise you should be getting.

First things first: talk to your doctor about how many times per week you should exercise and for how long. You can also ask your doctor about cardiac rehab. Some insurance providers cover a certain number of supervised cardiac rehab sessions to help people with heart failure start a new exercise routine in a controlled environment. Remember, everyone has different comfort levels and health needs. Work with your doctor to discuss safe types of activities, learn what’s best for your body, and figure out a plan that works best for you.

2. Start with small things.

Making small changes in your daily routine can help strengthen your heart and result in other health benefits. Some of these simple changes include taking the stairs instead of the elevator, or doing chair exercises while seated. Every little bit helps!

3. Find activities you enjoy.

Finding an activity you enjoy can take the burden out of exercising. For example, you may enjoy yard work or gardening – two great ways to exercise, while also being productive and getting fresh air. Other activities include swimming, bike riding, walking, and yoga. Remember, you do not have to do high-intensity sports to reap the benefits of exercise.

4. Find an exercise buddy.

Accountability is key when it comes to exercise. Ask a friend, colleague, or family member to be active with you to help pass the time and keep you on track. Have a regular time and meeting place to help make this part of your routine.

5. Start an exercise journal.

Keeping a journal can help you track your fitness progress. Write down every time you exercise, noting the activity you did, how long you did it, and how you felt while doing it. You can use this activity tracker as a guide. Just remember, if you experience any pain or difficulty breathing or speaking while exercising, stop and talk to your doctor.

One last thing to remember: every person has different needs. What works for your friend or family member, may not be fitting for you, and vice versa. What’s most important is that your routine is right for you!

Visit the CONNECT-HF healthy living tips page for more ideas like these.

First patient has joined the CONNECT-HF trial

The CONNECT-HF trial team is excited to announce that the first patient has signed up to take part in CONNECT-HF! This patient is the first of 8,000 people who will take part in the nationwide clinical trial. The goal of the trial is to help improve the care and resources available to people who are leaving the hospital after receiving treatment for heart failure.

Why is CONNECT-HF being done?

Nearly 5.7 million people in the United States have heart failure, and heart failure is one of the most common reasons for hospital stays. Even though heart failure is very common, the care and resources available to people with heart failure have been limited in the past.

The CONNECT-HF trial team hopes to change that by looking at different plans of care for people with heart failure, to see what works best. The goal is to figure out how to provide the best care possible to people with heart failure, to help improve their health, and to help keep them out of the hospital in the future.

The first patient has signed up, so what happens next?

People who join CONNECT-HF will take part in the trial for one year after they leave the hospital. During that year, CONNECT-HF researchers will collect information from the participant about how they are feeling and whether they have had to go to the hospital for heart failure again.

The CONNECT-HF trial team will continue to enroll patients in the trial over the next three years. This will help researchers learn more about how to improve care for people with heart failure.

How do people sign up to take part?

Nationwide, 160 hospitals will be part of CONNECT-HF. If a doctor in one of those hospitals thinks a patient receiving treatment for heart failure may be a good fit for the trial, then a member of the CONNECT-HF trial team will speak to the patient about whether they may be interested in taking part.