Life's Simple 7

The heart is the engine that drives the body, so when you care for your heart your whole body will shine. Regular exercise and eating more veggies and fruit are important parts of building a healthy heart. But strengthening your mental and emotional well-being will also keep your heart happy. 

According to the American Heart Association’s Life’s Simple 7, there are seven risk factors that you can improve through lifestyle changes to help you achieve ideal cardiovascular health.

Each month, the Penn Healthy You team will promote one of the risk factors.

  1. Get Active
    Living an active life is one of the most rewarding gifts you can give yourself and those you love. Daily physical activity increases your length and quality of life.
  2. Manage Blood Pressure
    High blood pressure is a major risk factor for heart disease.  When your blood pressure stays within healthy ranges, you reduce the strain on your heart, arteries, and kidneys.
  3. Eat Better
    A healthy diet is the best weapon we can use for fighting cardiovascular disease.  When you eat a heart-healthy diet, your chances are improved for feeling good and staying healthy for life!
  4. Stop Smoking
    Cigarette smokers have a significantly higher risk of developing heart disease. If you currently smoke, quitting can be the best thing you can do for your health.
  5. Strive for a Healthy Weight
    When you are at a healthy weight, your heart, lungs, and blood vessels are not being burdened by extra fat and unnecessary pounds.  Your blood pressure will also be lower, helping you contribute to the “managing blood pressure” part of Life’s Simple 7!
  6. Control Cholesterol
    High cholesterol leads to plaque, which can clog arteries and lead to heart disease and stroke. When your cholesterol is under control, your arteries have their best chance of remaining clear from blockages.
  7. Reduce Blood Sugar
    Most of the food we eat is turned into glucose, or blood sugar, that our bodies use for energy. However, high levels of blood sugar can damage your heart, kidneys, nerves, and even your eyes.

January: Get Active

Living an active life is not only rewarding to you, but to those you love.  Daily physical activity increases your length and quality of life.  Physical activity is also shown to have positive effects on your mood, strengthening your mental well-being!

Unsure of where to start? Below are some tips to help!

  • Do something you enjoy. Pick something that will encourage you to stay active on those harder to motivate days. Jump rope, improve your favorite yoga poses, or go for a longer walk with a friend. If walking with another person, remember to mask up and keep your distance.
  • Break up your routine. Try breaking up your workouts into two shorter periods. Take a 30-minute walk in the morning and do a 30-minute strength circuit in the afternoon. Studies show that incorporating movement throughout the day is associated with more long-term health benefits than those that work out in the morning or evening and spend the rest of the day sedentary.
  • Attend a live virtual group exercise class. Treat the class as a meeting. Sign up and put it on your calendar. Campus Recreation will hold free Virtual Group Exercise classes starting January 20.
  • Work out with a friend or co-worker. Accountability partners are a great way to stay motivated and on-track. Just keep your distance and mask up, or connect online.
  • Try something new. We can all get bored with doing the same workouts day after day. Consider picking a free workout from one of the thousands available online and through apps on your smartphone.

February: Manage Blood Pressure

High blood pressure, or hypertension, is when the force of blood flowing through your blood vessels is consistently too high. This puts you at increased risk for heart disease and stroke.

Normal blood pressure has a systolic number, the upper number of a blood pressure reading of 120 or less, and a diastolic number, or lower number, of 80 or less. You are considered to have stage 1 high blood pressure when the systolic number is 130-139, and the diastolic is 80-89.

Unfortunately, most of the time, people have no obvious symptoms of high blood pressure. In fact, many people with high blood pressure don’t know they have it, plus it generally develops over time and can be related to many causes. Protect yourself by being aware of the risks and making changes that matter. 

  • Know your numbers. Know what your blood pressure is and discuss any concerns with your healthcare provider. Get a biometric screening or lab work to learn the key indicators of your health status, including blood pressure, total and HDL cholesterol levels, and blood sugar/glucose. Although on-campus biometric screenings have been put on hold due to COVID-19, you can submit results obtained by your healthcare provider. Earn Be in the Know 2020-2021 campaign rewards for submitting biometric screening results with this year’s Consent Form
  • Work with your doctor. If you do have high blood pressure, don’t panic! Your healthcare provider is there to help you make a plan to lower it.
  • Make a few lifestyle changes. Most of the time, this will be the very first suggestion from your healthcare provider. Simple changes can make a world of difference. Consider ways to eat healthier (including reducing your sodium intake), maintain a healthy weight, get active, manage stress, and quit smoking. 
  • Check your blood pressure at home. Many different home blood pressure monitors are easy to use and won’t break the bank. Check your local pharmacy or ask your healthcare provider where you might find one.  You can use Flexible Spending Account (FSA) funds to purchase a monitor.
  • Take your medication. If your healthcare provider prescribes high blood pressure medication, make sure to take it exactly how it’s prescribed and don’t exceed or skip the recommended dosage.
  • Celebrate Valentine’s Day with dark chocolate. It’s rich in minerals such as iron, magnesium, and zinc, tastes good, and may help protect your heart. Studies have shown that eating a modest portion of 1-2 small squares (approximately 6 grams) of dark chocolate (70% cacao or higher) may help reduce the likelihood of developing heart disease. Some of the compounds in dark chocolate, specifically flavanols, positively affect two major risk factors for heart disease: high blood pressure and high cholesterol. 

Be Kind to Others

On February 17, everyone’s blood pressure could be a little bit lower. Why? Because it’s Random Acts of Kindness Day, an opportunity for you to give your best self to others without requests or promise of a return on your investment. Many of us have probably been on the receiving end of a “random act of kindness” (RAK). Maybe the person in front of you at the coffee shop paid for your latte or your neighbor shoveled the snow from your driveway. 

Being kind to others is a foundational part of your well-being. It can help improve your physical and mental health as well as connections to one another. When you are kind to others, everybody wins. Some benefits of RAK include:

  • Recipients feel cared for.
  • Increased feelings of self-worth for both the giver and receiver.
  • People that are more kind are reported to have 23% less cortisol (the stress hormone) and age slower than the average population.
  • Kindness can lower blood pressure because it releases a hormone called oxytocin. In turn, oxytocin sets off a chemical called nitric oxide, which dilates the blood vessels and reduces blood pressure.

There are many ways to show your gratitude. Some examples:

  • Write a handwritten note or card to a colleague, neighbor, family member, or friend.
  • Enter a recommendation for a colleague on LinkedIn.
  • Send a Penn ecard.
  • Offer your support to someone who is struggling.
  • Learn something new about your coworkers.
  • Reflect with your team on all the ways you’ve adapted your work this year and the new ways of completing work and providing programs and services to the Penn Community.
  • Instead of asking how someone is doing, ask about something good that’s happened since the last time you met.
  • Offer to take a new employee on your team to a virtual lunch. New employees may expect a lunch invitation from their supervisor but getting one from a friendly coworker will make their day.
  • Work with your team on a virtual community service project through Penn Volunteers in Public Service.

So, when Random Acts of Kindness day rolls around, try making someone else’s day, and help your heart in the process.

For more information, visit the Random Acts of Kindness Foundation’s webpage.

March: Eat Better

During the month of March our primary focus will be to improve eating habits.  A healthy diet is one of your best weapons for fighting cardiovascular disease.  When you eat a heart-healthy diet of whole grains, lean animal proteins, and fruits and veggies, you improve your chances for feeling good and staying healthy!

The American Heart Association has some great tips on how to eat better:

  1. Create a Healthy Dietary Pattern: Learn which foods to enjoy, limit, and avoid. If you are unsure of how to start or which foods you need to limit and which you can enjoy, you can schedule an appointment with Corporate Wellness Nutrition by emailing myRD@wcusa.com. You can also find more information regarding nutrition counseling here.
  2. Read Nutrition Labels: Learning how to read and understand food labels can help you make healthier choices! The knowledgeable Registered Dieticians at Corporate Wellness Nutrition can teach you how to do so, if this is something you struggle with.
  3. Watch Calories, Cook at Home, and Look for the Heart-Check: You can find more about these tips on the American Heart Association website linked above, or by visiting our wellness platform with Virgin Pulse at https://join.virginpulse.com/penn. Go to the “Heath” tab and click “Nutrition Guide” in the drop-down menu!