Beaufort Memorial’s Living Well Blog brings health and wellness to Lowcountry living.

Mornings Matter: Start your day in a heart-healthy way

Posted by Living Well Team on Jan 15, 2018 2:00:00 PM

mornings_matter.jpgDid you know heart attacks are more common in the morning? Some research even suggests that a.m. heart attacks are also the most serious. As if mornings weren’t stressful enough.

The good news is that there’s an opportunity to make those early hours work for you and your health. Every morning, you make decisions that can have an impact on your heart, says Garth Graham, M.D., a cardiologist and former deputy assistant secretary at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. “Although genetics is important, the kinds of habits we employ are even more important,” he says.

Take these changes one at a time, and soon you’ll be on your way to a healthier day — and life.

The first step to a good morning starts the night before, when you decide to go to bed. Crash late, and you cheat yourself out of the many health benefits of sleep. “We now know that sleep has an impact on not only functionality but also coronary artery disease,” Graham says.

Not getting enough sleep appears to affect glucose metabolism, blood pressure and inflammation, which increases risk for conditions such as diabetes and heart disease. And one study even found that people who sleep less than six hours a night are about twice as likely to have a stroke or heart attack as those who sleep six to eight hours a night.

So, make sure you go to bed early enough to get about eight hours of sleep. Also important: If you find yourself getting eight hours of sleep at night and still not feeling rested, talk to your doctor. People with sleep apnea, which causes frequent night waking, often have heart problems.

“For any lifestyle choice to be impactful, it has to be sustainable,” Graham says. So, he advises, strive to find foods that fit your palate. Try to limit the salt, sugar and saturated fat in your breakfast while increasing vegetables, fruits and whole grains. Skip the high-sugar cereals, doughnuts and pastries.

Egg whites are a great protein, says George Bakris, M.D., an author for the medical reference The Merck Manual. An egg white scramble with a handful of veggies and a side of fruit is a healthful way to start the day. And be mindful of those morning staples bacon and sausage, which are fatty and salty.

“For people who are eating a lot of breakfast meats,” Bakris adds, “you can substitute those with salmon, which is very nutritious.”

If you’re able to squeeze a workout—even just 30 minutes of brisk walking or a quick interval training routine—into your morning, you’ll start things off knowing you’ve already done your recommended exercise for the day.

“Making it part of the morning routine is great because it helps give you energy throughout the day,” Graham says.

If joint pain or other issues are keeping you from the treadmill or a bike, Bakris offers a solution: “I’m a huge advocate of swimming... especially for people with arthritis.” Swimming is a full-body exercise that is easy on joints and great for people who are overweight, too, he says.

But if morning workouts aren’t your style, you can still build some activity into your morning by looking for small ways to get more steps. Walk to work or the bus stop, or take the office stairs instead of the elevator.

Stress may feel inevitable, even though you know it has a negative effect on your heart health. But you can choose to be positive and mindful in an effort to tackle stress head-on. Long-term psychological stress leads to increased levels of the stress hormone cortisol, which can result in higher blood sugar levels (a marker for diabetes), digestive issues, sleep problems, memory issues and weight gain.

Managing stress takes practice. A few steps you can take in the morning include meditating and deep-breathing exercises to help you set the stage for a calmer day. You can also try affirmations; telling yourself you’re going to have a great day can be a positive tool.

If you’d like to improve your physical fitness, LifeFit Wellness Center can help. For more information, contact Kim Yawn at or call 843-522-5635.

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