February is not only known for Valentine’s Day, but is also American Heart Month! And whatever the event, I am all about hearts! As a cardiac rehabilitation nurse for 10 years, I have spent countless hours not only taking care of patients’ hearts, but also getting to know them and their lifestyles. People come to me after a cardiac event, often not knowing what to expect from rehab and with uncertainty about their heart health going forward.
I tell my patients…this rehab isn’t just about exercise. We will learn about all the topics that go along with having a healthy heart. I express the importance of exercise for sure, but the two other particularly important topics that are difficult for me to get across to my patients are nutrition and staying hydrated.
Very often in rehab, patients do not drink enough water. My tech, who is also very involved in patient care, is constantly offering water to our patients throughout the sessions. We talk to patients every day about being hydrated and the importance of water.
I tell my patients about the many benefits of water:
- normalizes blood pressure
- stabilizes blood pressure
- water aids in digestion
- cushions joints
- prevents constipation
- flushes bacteria from your bladder
- carries nutrients and oxygen to your cells
- protects organs and tissues
- aids in weight loss
- helps prevent and treat headaches
- affects your energy levels and brain function
- improves skin complexion
With all these proven benefits, drinking water is a daily reminder for all my patients and should be for everyone. Go shopping or find a favorite glass or container. Mark off your goals for water intake throughout the day and make that container a part of you throughout your day. Have it with you wherever you go.
Recommendations for how much water a person should drink depends on several factors, including your health and how active you are. Depending on your heart health, many patients are put on a fluid restriction. There isn’t a magic number for everyone. Knowing more about your body’s needs will help you estimate how much water to drink each day.
Now for nutrition… a tough topic. Everyone knows what they should do to eat healthy, but it is hard to follow through. I get that. In rural Montana where beef is a huge part of our upbringing, how do I tell my patients DON’T EAT BEEF! It is not going to happen. My approach is that if your cardiologist said no beef, then no beef. Otherwise, you need to cut back on your beef, eating the very leanest cuts you can. Add more chicken and fish, use the leanest hamburger.
Another important thing is portion control. Everyone needs to pay attention to how much food they are putting in their mouths. And what do these scrumptious bites of food contain? That brings up the topic of reading labels. In the last year, the FDA has come up with a new and improved label for foods. Labels and nutrients had not been updated in the past 20 years. They now are easier to read and nutrient levels have been updated and changed. Sodium values, added sugars and fats are important in the heart healthy world, and have all been updated. Read labels, know what is going into your mouth, and be cognizant of how much you are eating. It will make your heart happy!
Happy hydrating from my heart to yours.