Loving and guarding your heart
By member Kristen Sherman, Muncie, Ind.
Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it. (Proverbs 4:23 NIV)
This Bible verse paints a wonderful picture of how our “spiritual” and physical hearts operate. It’s also coupled with a warning.
Guarding both your spiritual and physical heart is not always easy; both tasks require attention and work. The more time we spend reading and studying the Bible, the stronger our spiritual heart will be. The more we exercise and nourish our bodies with healthy foods, the stronger our physical heart will be.
No matter the condition of your heart—whether young, old, in or out of shape, or even damaged—deep down we all yearn for a strong heart. Each stage of life requires different steps to keep your heart (and your life) in top-notch condition.
After all, everything you do flows from it.
A healthy heart
Especially if you’re young, caring for your physical heart now may not be at the top of your list. However, the American Heart Association recommends incorporating 30 minutes of moderate exercise at least five days per week, for a total of 150 minutes. If you prefer to exercise vigorously, 25 minutes of such activity at least three times per week is also acceptable. In addition, muscle strength training is recommended two times per week. (Even if you believe you’re healthy enough for exercise, it’s always recommended to check with your doctor before beginning an exercise routine.)
By implementing these recommendations into your lifestyle, eating right and taking care of your spiritual heart, you’re doing all you can for your heart’s health.
A heart coupled with high blood pressure, high cholesterol, or diabetes
If you suffer from any of these conditions, you may be thinking more about your heart than you have in the past. Blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes all contribute to heart disease. Your doctor may be able to prescribe medications to help bring your conditions under control. Taking medications as prescribed is absolutely the right thing to do.
However, working to manage the root cause of the problem will bring about even greater heart health. Exercise can lower high blood pressure, high cholesterol and blood sugars. If your doctor says you’re healthy enough to start exercising, then 40 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise at least three or four days per week could bring about significant results.
A heart in poor health or after a heart attack
If you’ve experienced a frightening cardiac event or a chronic condition, there are still positive moves you can make. First, talk with your doctor about what type of exercise is best for you. Figuring that out and sticking to a plan will help you build and retain strength. Take all medications as your doctor and pharmacist instruct. Don’t forget to tend to your spiritual needs; managing stress can significantly improve your health (see Proverbs 17:22, John 14:27 and Philippians 4:6-7).
Lastly, diet changes are within your control and are some of the smartest heart-healthy choices you can make. These suggestions will get you started:
- Eat a colorful variety of fresh, frozen or canned fruits and vegetables. Choose those without added sauces, salts or sugars. Swap high calorie foods with fruits and vegetables.
- Choose whole grain foods such as brown rice, whole wheat bread and tortillas and whole wheat pasta.
- Choose fish and skinless chicken over red meats. Omit or limit the amount of fat in cooking.
- Eat fish such as salmon, trout and herring at least twice per week. They are high in Omega-3 fatty acids.
- Choose skim or one percent milk and dairy products.
- Avoid foods with trans fats.
- Limit saturated fat intake and replace them with monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats.
- If your blood cholesterol numbers need improvement, reduce saturated fat intake to no more than five- to six percent of total calories (about 13 grams for someone who eats 2,000 calories per day).
- Limit food and drinks with added sugars.
- Eat fewer than 2,400 milligrams (about one teaspoon) of sodium per day. Greater results can be achieved by consuming under 1,500 milligrams per day. If that’s too intimidating, decreasing your salt intake even by 1,000 milligrams daily can improve blood pressure.
- Be smart when eating out. Many restaurants now include calorie information on their menus. Watch your portion sizes.
Talking with your doctor or dietitian may yield more specific heart health recommendations. With these suggestions, you can start “guarding” your heart health today.
Editor’s note: Kristen Sherman is a registered dietitian and an international board-certified lactation consultant. She also serves as a nutritional consultant for companies launching educational products. Kristen and her husband, Pastor Michael Sherman, have been CHM members since Jan. 2017 and reside in Muncie, Ind.