Frugal Ways To Stay Heart Healthy

by Nichole Richardson
Frugal Ways to Stay Heart Healthy photo

Most of us are born with a healthy heart, and it costs nothing to keep it that way. Consider these frugal ways to stay heart healthy, keep cardiovascular disease at bay, and possibly prevent some big medical bills.

February is best known for candy hearts and Valentine cards, but it is also the lesser-known American Heart Month.

During a decisive moment, while announcing February 1964 as the first American Heart Month, President Lyndon B. Johnson urged “the people of the United States to give heed to the nationwide problem of the heart and blood-vessel diseases, and to support the programs required to bring about its solution.”

Heart Facts

Though Johnson’s words were pivotal then, they are still warranted now. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that heart disease costs U.S. taxpayers at least $239.9 billon a year in health care, medicines, and lost productivity. That’s a lot of money. And to top it off, one out of five heart attacks happen “silently” and the victim is not even aware!

Cardiovascular disease has been a longstanding major and expensive problem and encompasses all diseases affecting the heart and blood vessels. It takes one out of four people’s lives per year and is the leading cause of death in the U.S. for both men and women, according to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.

Although 20.1 million people age 20 or older have coronary artery disease (CAD), the most common type of heart disease, you can still live a heart-healthy life by understanding your risk factors, making informed choices, and taking necessary precautions to avoid falling into this group. In fact, it requires zero dollars to do all the things it takes to prevent or decelerate this universal condition.

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Common Heart Disease Risk Factors

The primary risk factors for heart disease include high blood pressure, high cholesterol, high weight, diabetes, smoking and/or high alcohol use, and stagnation (inactivity). It is reported more than 40% of Americans have at least one risk factor for heart disease. Even one is too many.

Inherited Heart Issues

The easiest (and least expensive) way to gauge if you will develop a heart condition is to look at your lineage. If a parent developed CAD at an early age (before age 55 for a male relative, such as your father or brother, and 65 for a female relative, such as your sister or mother), your risk for it increases. Another inherited precursor is diabetes.

The Mirror Effect

Another free way to predict your chances of developing heart disease is to take a good, hard look in the mirror. The best way to tell if you’re at a healthy weight is from your waist size. According to Michelle Routhenstein, MS, RD, CDE, CDN, in a Healthline interview, “A waist circumference greater than 35 inches in women and greater than 40 inches in men could not only determine overweight status but put a hard-and-fast number on one’s health.”

Rev It Up

We all know exercise is important for our health. But what does that actually mean? It means that a healthy person’s heart beats on average 2.5 billion beats over a lifetime, which equals out to be somewhere between 60-100 beats per minute. Tracking your pulse is one way to reveal your risk for a heart condition.

Certified ACE Personal Trainer Kathleen Killion advises people to take their pulse first thing in the morning before even getting out of bed to determine their best resting heart rate. “This determines the lowest amount of blood your heart needs to pump to maintain. The lower, the better,” says Killion.

“The best way to take your pulse is to use your first two fingers on the inside of your wrist, just below your thumb pad,” explains Killion. Pulses are fluid and speed up or down to accommodate the body’s changing needs for oxygen. “You must get your heart to its target rate to make any difference.”

Killion says a person should work toward 50-70% of their maximum heart rate during moderate exercise and between 70-85% during strenuous activities, just as the American Heart Association recommends. One’s maximum heart rate is about 220 minus their age.

As They Say, You Are What You Eat

Those who choose to consume unhealthy foods will obviously most likely be unhealthy individuals. Diets full of cholesterol, fats, salts, and sugars may taste great, but they can take years off one’s lifespan. Killion also warns people to “get rid of at least as many calories as you ingest.”

Healthy meals include mixes of beans, nuts, low-fat dairy products, grains, poultry, and fish. Cook meals with as little salt as possible and reduce sodium to around 1,500 milligrams daily to benefit blood pressure. (See 10 Low-Cost Healthy Foods for the Thrifty Budget.)

Stress, Drugs, and Rock N’ Roll

Continuous stress can affect one’s health in many ways. It can damage arteries and contribute to lowered heart function.

Smoking also damages many of the body’s systems, including the cardiovascular system, and increases blood clots and blood pressure. Blood vessels constrict, which restricts blood flow throughout the body and can lead to peripheral artery disease. The carbon monoxide from cigarettes can contribute to atherosclerosis.

Ingesting illegal drugs can cause the heart rate to become abnormal or may even cause heart attacks, and depending upon how they are ingested, using illicit drugs can lead to breakdowns of the central nervous system, collapsed veins, or infections in the heart’s valves or blood vessels.

All of these are preventable problems for the most part, but the best part is they are all free or can help save you money in other ways.

Reviewed January 2024

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