Lifestyle Changes for People Living with AFib
If you have a diagnosis of atrial fibrillation, you know that taking your medication and seeing your doctor regularly are important for your cardiovascular health. But did you know you can take steps at home to improve your health, too?
By adopting a few healthy habits that benefit your heart and blood vessels, you improve the health of every cell in your body. Let’s take a look at some of the most important actions you can take to ensure you live a long, healthy life despite having AFib.
1. Track Your Blood Pressure
This is one of the most important actions to take if you want to live well despite AFib. People who have AFib have an increased risk of congestive heart failure and stroke, and so it is extremely important to prevent and treat hypertension, also known as high blood pressure. Maintaining your blood pressure within normal limits prevents heart failure and stroke.
Even if you do not have a history of hypertension, have your blood pressure checked at least once each month. Free blood pressure clinics are often available throughout the community; you can take advantage of blood pressure machines found in pharmacies and grocery stores. Record your blood pressure and the date each time that you check it. Try to take it in the same arm and at the same time of day.
Keeping track of your blood pressure is a great tool for evaluating if your other heart healthy interventions are effective. If you have hypertension, follow your health care provider’s recommendations for managing it. Generally speaking, blood pressure readings that are consistently 140/80 or higher are classified as hypertension.
2. Eat Well
A healthy diet will provide your body with the nutrients it needs to function optimally. Diets rich in fresh produce supply the body with low-calorie nutrients that lower levels of unhealthy cholesterol and prevent aging.
Choosing the right foods also keeps your blood vessels flexible and reduces hypertension. A low-fat, primarily plant-based diet is best. This will also help you maintain a healthy weight, which is important because being overweight is a risk factor for heart disease.
Opt for simple whole foods and avoid processed foods as they are nutrient poor and can increase inflammation within your body, which is linked to cardiovascular and other serious health problems. Limit your intake of meat and animal products as well, as these also increase inflammation.
Try to eat more foods that contain healthy essential fatty acids, like salmon, mackerel, herring, halibut, and flax and hemp seeds, buy avoid saturated and polyunsaturated fats.
Consider snacking tree nuts, such as walnuts, as these offer protective benefits for your heart and blood vessels.
Ask your health care provider for a referral to a nutritionist for customized advice.
3. Take Steps to Reduce Injury
If you have atrial fibrillation, you probably take a blood thinning medication. Be sure to take your medication exactly as prescribed, get laboratory tests as ordered, and report any signs of internal or external bleeding to your health care provider.
Prevent injuries by using gloves when performing work outdoors. Use electric shavers rather than razors, and take care when you are using knives and scissors. Pay attention to your environment so to prevent bumps and bruises.
Follow your doctor’s dietary recommendations regarding foods which interfere with the action of anticoagulant medications.
4. Reduce and Manage Stress Effectively
Episodes of AFib may arise during periods of stress. Examine your life. Are there people in your life who you need to have less contact with? Do you need to speak up more? Would participating in a spiritual community, such as a church or synagogue, be beneficial for you? Does your environment cause you stress? Do you need to downsize?
Are your expectations of yourself and your loved ones too high? Are you comfortable delegating tasks? How are your organizational skills? Is your home cluttered? Is it time to cut back on activities that you no longer enjoy? Does the thought of trying a new hobby excite you?
As the saying goes, “life is short.” Look at your life. Take steps to reduce stressors in your life. You will not only reduces the likelihood of having an episode of atrial fibrillation, you will enjoy your life more and be energized.