To celebrate the heart health month of February, a local cardiologist recommends some little lifestyle changes that can make big improvements in your ticker.

“My focus is on making three small changes that can have a big impact. They don’t disrupt your life. They are doable things to do this year,” said Dr. Nasreen Ilias-Khan, a board-certified cardiologist at Legacy Mount Hood Medical Center.

Ilias-Khan hits three points. First, increase your physical activity. Second, eat the colors of the rainbow. Third, manage stress.

“Try to get 30 minutes of aerobic exercise six days per week,” she said. “This will decrease your risk of cardiovascular disease by 30 percent.”

For some of us couch potatoes, that may not sound like an insignificant change. But, don’t give up. Start small.

“Try to do five minutes a couple of times a day,” she said, and work up to more.

Exercise benefits the heart in multiple ways, Dr. Ilias-Khan pointed out. It improves circulation, boosts mood and self esteem, promotes better sleep improves key numbers such as blood sugar and cholesterol, decreases the need for medication and reduces stress.

CONTRIBUTED PHOTO: LEGACY MOUNT HOOD MEDICAL CENTER  - Dr. Nasreen Ilias-Khan, board-certified cardiologist at Legacy Mt. Hood Medical CenterDr. Ilias-Khan recommends one to two cups of vegetables at both lunch and dinner and one serving of fruit with each meal. “Avoid juices, eat the actual product — it is much better for you,” she said.

Eat a variety of colors — yellow, green, red, even purple — they have antioxidants and decrease the risk of heart disease, the doctor advised.

For example, orange and yellow vegetables are rich in carotenoids, which improve immune function and lower risk of heart disease, vision problems and cancer.

They also also contain folate, potassium, bromium and vitamin C.

A heart-healthy diet can reduce the risk of cardio-vascular disease by 20 percent. So if you just eat well and exercise, that reduces your risk by 50 percent.

Exercise is one important way to reduce stress, which improves heart health, but there are others, Ilias-Khan said.

“The easiest way to reduce stress is just to take two minutes a day and sit down and think about your breathing,” she said. Visualize butterfly wings for two minutes, she suggested.

Another Legacy doctor, Dr. Cynthia Aks, board-certified surgeon specializing in breast surgery also listed a variety of activities that will reduce stress and activate the restorative pathways of our nervous system.

These include: meditation, yoga, massage, the Japanese healing art of reiki, acupuncture, healing touch, prayer and aroma therapy.

She advocates music and art therapy. Guided imagery or directed meditation on audio files can help. “All of these are ways to manage stress,” Aks said.

No matter what your current health habits, it is always beneficial to make heart-healthy changes.

“We can’t erase our past,” Ilias-Khan said, “but we can improve our future.”

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