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NIFS Healthy Living Blog

Are You Getting Enough Sleep? Simple Solutions for Beating Insomnia

GettyImages-469577750.jpgMatthew Walker, the director of the Center for Human Sleep Science at the University of California, Berkeley, has made it his career goal to reinforce the fact that 20 large-scale epidemiological studies have all reported the same relationship: the shorter your sleep, the shorter your life. Today, one in three Americans can be categorized as sleep deprived.


The Effects of Sleep Deprivation

As defined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, sleep deprivation is a condition that occurs if you don't get enough sleep. Not only does a shortage of sleep affect your productivity, but on less than seven hours of sleep, your body's natural killer cells work less effectively. Walker notes that between 1950 and 2017, the US obesity rate has risen from 13% to the likes of 35%.

“Sleep is the single most effective thing you can do to reset your brain and body.”
—Dr. Matthew Walker, U.C., Berkeley

As obesity in America has steadily risen, the amount of sleep individuals are accumulating per night has decreased—almost two and a half hours, to be exact. Not only is sleep deprivation being glorified as an accomplishment in today’s society, extensive research has concluded that sleep deprivation puts unnecessary stress on the human body, including weight gain. Chronic sleep deprivation has been linked to an increase in heart disease, heart attack, heart failure, irregular heartbeat, high blood pressure, stroke, and diabetes.

The National Sleep Foundation (NSF) outlines that both young adults (ages 18–25) and adults (ages 26–64) should aim for 7–9 hours per night consistently. Sounds easy, right? With the prevalence of social media alongside TV and cell phone usage at night, however, most Americans fall short.

Five Tips for Overcoming Insomnia

Here are some tips from the NSF to help you capture the ZZZs and start sawing logs in no time.

  • Stick to a sleep schedule of the same bedtime and wakeup time, even on the weekends. This helps regulate your body clock and could help you fall asleep and stay asleep for the night.
  • Practice a relaxing bedtime ritual. A relaxing, routine activity right before bedtime conducted away from bright lights helps separate your sleep time from activities that can cause excitement, stress, or anxiety, which can make it more difficult to fall asleep, get sound and deep sleep, or remain asleep.
  • Exercise daily. Vigorous exercise is best, but even light exercise is better than no activity. Exercise at any time of day, but not at the expense of your sleep.
  • Evaluate your room. Your bedroom should be cool—between 60 and 67 degrees. Check your room for noises or other distractions. Consider using blackout curtains, eye shades, earplugs, “white-noise" machines, humidifiers, fans, and other devices.
  • If you can't sleep, go into another room and do something relaxing until you feel tired. It is best to take work materials, computers, and televisions out of the sleeping environment. If you associate a particular activity or item with anxiety about sleeping, omit it from your bedtime routine.

If you’re still having trouble sleeping after following the above tips, don’t hesitate to speak with your doctor or to find a sleep professional in your area. Check out the following resources for more information.

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This blog was written by Ellyn Grant, Healthy Lifestyle Coordinator. To read more about the NIFS bloggers, click here.

Topics: disease prevention sleep productivity heart disease obesity insomnia sleep deprivation

Short Sleeps, Big Benefits: What a Power Nap Can Do for You

ThinkstockPhotos-530249969.jpgCan you remember preschool when the teacher would turn down the lights and break out the cots? Nap time! You might not have had that exact experience, but as humans we are prone to napping. In our go-go-go life, time is money. To society, sleeping during the day is seen as a luxury that we cannot provide ourselves, and is usually thought of as a sign of laziness.

Unfortunately, napping doesn’t pay the bills. Even so, many physicians as well as wellness-oriented CEOs have championed the idea that a little afternoon snooze is actually beneficial, and can not only provide enough rest to fight off fatigue, but improves your alertness, improves motor learning skills, boosts memory, and enhances creativity (Soong, 2010). Can napping actually make you a better employee at work, give you better results in the gym, or enable you to have a better social life with your family and friends? Yes, in fact, it can! Here is a closer look at napping and its benefits.

What Is the Optimal Nap Length?

First, I’d like to break down naps into two parts. The duration of nap that you are taking will be specific to you, but there is information that gives a good indication that for optimal power naps, 10 to 20 minutes of sleep will provide the best results. Longer naps can make you groggy; this is known as sleep inertia (Dvorsky, 2013). The longer naps, such as a 60- to 90-minute siesta, can put you in a state of REM (otherwise known as our dream state). There are some links to cognitive function associated with longer naps, but the time frame doesn’t always work with our hectic schedules.

When Is the Best Time to Nap?

The second part deals with necessity. Our naps can be planned, in which you know you are going to need extra rest for a long night, so you take a nap. Another would be an emergency nap, where you take a nap because you otherwise would have put yourself in a dangerous situation (think about getting sleepy behind the wheel and then deciding it’s best to pull over at a rest stop for a nap). Then there is the always popular appetitive napping—in other words, taking a nap for the sheer enjoyment of it (Dvorsky, 2013).

What Are the Benefits?

Your health and wellness can benefit from a simple, short nap. At the right length, your nap can provide much-needed alertness, mental capacity, creativity, energy, reduced stress (in turn reducing the risks of heart disease), and more effective learning abilities for children. With all these positives attached to something that can be done quite simply, it’s hard to understand why anyone would not take more naps. For businesses, your employees would be better workers with higher productivity; for teachers, your students would have a better chance of learning; and for you, your overall well-being would be improved. Don’t wait; take a nap TODAY!

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This blog was written by Thomas Livengood, NIFS Health Fitness Instructor and Personal Trainer. To read more about the other NIFS bloggers, click here.

Topics: stress Thomas' Corner employee health sleep productivity heart disease wellness naps memory

The Danger of Yo-Yo Dieting and Weight Loss

ThinkstockPhotos-76755839.jpgYou lose 15 pounds. Then gain back 10. Then it’s time to try the newest diet out there and you lose 20 pounds. Then gain 20 back. Does this cycle sound familiar? This is called yo-yo dieting, or the cycle of gaining and losing the same pounds over and over again. This cycle is dangerous because of its long-term health effects. Hopefully reading through these dangers will prevent you from trying the next fad diet craze and instead adopt the theory of “slow and steady!”

Increased Risk of Heart Disease

The main concern with yo-yo dieting—or weight cycling, as it is also called—is heart disease. In November 2016, the American Heart Association released a study that found an increased risk of coronary heart disease and sudden cardiac death in postmenopausal women who had yo-yo dieted. They found that the more times a person had lost and gained 10 pounds, the more hazardous it was to their hearts. Another theory for the danger is the sudden shifts in fluid and electrolytes, such as potassium, that can cause deadly heart arrhythmias.

The recommendations are to not lose more than 1 pound per week to help with these sudden changes in the body. The best way to do this is to use nutrition to decrease overall caloric intake by 250 calories per day while expending 250 calories through activity. We know that overall weight loss is still healthier for the heart than not losing at all. However, how you lose the weight is just as important.

After reading this, some people might think “Well, I guess I shouldn’t try to lose weight again for fear of regaining and doing more damage.” That is not the case. Even if it is your tenth time attempting to lose weight, it is beneficial to all parts of the body to lose the weight. This time, though, make it a realistic goal and then take off the weight slowly so that it stays off.

Top Weight-Loss Tips

The people who are most successful in losing weight and keeping it off all do a few things that have helped them keep achieving their goal:

  1. Follow a consistent exercise routine.
  2. Weigh themselves, but not more than once per week.
  3. Eat a diet based around produce, lean protein, and whole grains.
  4. Don’t skip meals.
  5. Control portion sizes.

Instead of signing up for popular fad diets, follow these five rules to lose weight and keep it off!

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This blog was written by Angie Mitchell, RD, Wellness Coordinator. To find out more about the NIFS bloggers, click here.

Topics: nutrition weight loss heart disease diets weight cycling

Annual Checkups and Health Assessments Can Save Your Life

As we age, it’s almost inevitable that our bodies are going to age as well. Yes, there are plenty of ways to keep our bodies from feeling like they have aged, and to keep our bones protected, and nutrition and exercise lifestyles go hand in hand to assist that. However, there are certain aspects, such as genetics and health history, that still play a very important role in keeping us healthy.

Pete-Binhack.jpgI sat down with Pete Binhack and his wife, Julie, both active and longtime NIFS members, and listened to them share Pete’s story about making a decision to get a simple $50 heart scan to check his cardiovascular health—a decision that ended up saving his life.

First tell us a little bit about yourself and how long you have been living a healthy lifestyle.

I am currently 58 years old, and have been running regularly for the last 18 years; I made a declaration to myself when I turned 40 that I would start running and have kept it up ever since. Since then I have completed about six full marathons so far, and as of this year I have completed 18 mini marathons. I found that running is what contributed to taking care of my work stress; I have a fairly physical job in the HVAC/refrigeration industry and that has encouraged me to maintain a healthy lifestyle.”

Do you normally make sure to schedule annual checkups with your doctor?

Yes, I actually have always kept up an annual checkup with my doctor since the age of 18. I always took advantage of the free annual checkup that I was given from each of my employers when I would begin a new job, and then would make sure to get one every year in between.”

For some of us, an annual checkup is sufficient, and it’s a wonderful start for those of us who do not currently have a doctor that we see annually. Many of us go years without seeing our physician until we find that we have to make an appointment because we just can’t kick a cold on our own or because we are feeling “off our game.” However, when it comes to more specialized appointments to check for a specific disorder (cancers, cardiovascular disease, etc.), many of us tend to not even think twice about getting checked.

What made you decide to get a heart scan?

My brother had major open-heart valve replacement surgery when we were younger, in the early ‘60s. Then I saw it via advertisement last year while visiting a friend in the hospital after having a heart attack. To be honest, I procrastinated on it until after going to a funeral for a 58-year-old high school friend of mine who died of a heart attack. The funeral was on a Wednesday; I called and made an appointment for the following Thursday.”

What were the results?

My doctor called me within two hours of receiving the results to tell me to stop my running. I had a more thorough scan set up and was then recommended to a thoracic surgeon for our next steps.”

“We thought we would be seeing her for medicine options,” his wife, Julie, stated, “We had no thoughts in our heads about surgery.”

“Later after going to the Cardiovascular Center at Methodist to see the surgeon, she showed us a 3D picture of an ascending aortic aneurysm in Pete’s heart,” Julie said. “It was 5½ centimeters wide, which is two times the size of where it should be.”

The results were shocking for both Pete and Julie, and it was crucial to move quickly in their following appointments and surgery.

“If it had ruptured, I would not be here today,” Pete replied. “My surgeon said she was pretty positive that I would not have lived through the rest of the month. Surgery was the only option. Within five days I ended up having open-heart surgery to remove the aneurysm on March 19, 2015, during which they also found a significant amount of plaque on my valve.”

Needless to say, it is important to schedule routine appointments with your doctor—not only a yearly physical or regular checkup, but also more specific appointments to get a deeper look at high-risk areas. This requires us to make sure we have a good understanding of medical history in our families.

Do you have a history of heart disease in your family?

“Yes, so my issue was more of a genetic situation. I have six brothers and sisters, four of whom have heart valve issues that are currently being monitored, and two of whom have gone out and had heart scans done since I had my surgery.”

Now that you are recovered, are you able to continue doing all the things you enjoyed before? Is there anything different?

“Yes and no. Recovery went well, but physical therapy was hard because they wanted to slow me down, while I, naturally, wanted to go faster. However, within six weeks I was able to complete the Indy Mini-Marathon with my daughter, and within three months time I went back to work. Now I am just naturally cautious of things, such as bumping my chest, etc.”

“Sometimes I forget that it has only been one year since the surgery, and I have to remember that,” Julie said. “I also have to make sure to have a little more patience with Pete’s progress. Currently I’m not sure if he’ll be returning back to his original running level, but we are very fortunate to even have him back at 60 percent of what he was.”

What advice do you have for those who haven’t gone to the doctor in a while?

“Make the appointment and sincerely evaluate where you want to be in the future,” Julie stated. “If you have never gotten a heart scan done, or any other assessment, and [certain diseases] run in your family, there’s no excuse. We got very lucky with our doctor and it was a positive influence for the both of us.”

“Don’t be afraid to make that first step and just get it done,” said Pete. “The sooner the better; make the appointment and sincerely evaluate where you want to be in the future. What we thought would be a routine appointment turned into a life-changing one, but it was all for good in the end.”

I know that for many of us, myself included, we often forget about annual checkups and assessments, or simply neglect making the appointment because we are afraid of hearing bad news or having to make changes in our lifestyle that stray from our comfortable routine. But the fact is, the sooner and more often we check in with what’s going on inside, the quicker we can catch the things that can be treated in the early stages. This will help us be better off in the long run, and we can rest easier knowing that we are taking care of ourselves from the inside out!

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This blog was written by Rebecca Newbrough, Lifestyle Program Coordinator and Health Fitness Instructor. To find out more about the NIFS bloggers, click here.

Topics: NIFS heart disease cardiovascular assessments

NIFS Crucial Conversations: I Took My Life Back (Part I)

Katie_Before_2.jpgThere comes a time when a story of struggle, strife, and success must be shared to remind others that you are never alone in your battle, and that achievement and happiness are closer than you may think. Katie Feltman has such a story.

I have had the privilege to work with Katie for many years now, and I can remember the first conversation we had out in the fitness center about where she was at the time, where she wanted to go, and how we could work together to get there. I felt her struggle instantly, but I also felt a great deal of determination, evident from the progress she had made before coming to see me. She wasn’t going to take this battle lying down anymore!

I asked Katie to talk about her journey with me so that I could share it with those who may be looking for that spark, that notion that nothing is impossible, but I’Mpossible! Join me in walking in Katie’s shoes as she shares some of her journey with us.

Conversation with Katie, Part I:

Tony: So, take me back about four years and tell me what was going on with you at that time.

Katie: I was living a very different life. A recent doctor’s visit had revealed I weighed 286 pounds, I was pre-diabetic, I had high blood pressure, my LDL cholesterol was high, and I had just found out I had to wear a Holter monitor to diagnose heart arrhythmias I was having. I had lower back pain from herniated discs that required an unhealthy amount of daily Advil to keep at bay (and along with my poor eating habits had created a wicked case of acid reflux that ultimately became an ulcer) and I slept poorly. For 37 years of age, I wasn’t doing okay. I was unhappy.

Tony: What were some of the major struggles you were dealing with?

Katie: Like most people, I had my share of stress sources; nothing extreme or unusual, but I had an ill mother, and a job that looking back now I realized had reached a point that made me miserable. But generally I had nothing going on outside of me that should have triggered the kind of profound lack of self-care I was engaging in on a regular basis.

“I coped with my stress by pushing my feelings inward and washing it all down with sugary processed foods and wine. I made no time to take care of myself.”

Katie_Before_4.jpgYou’d think with the scary words the doctor was saying I would have walked out of there that day and taken charge of things right then. But change isn’t like that—not for me, at least. I was frustrated with how I felt, and I know this will sound superficial but it is true: I hated how I looked, which I didn’t realize then but now know was key to my struggle. Self-hate = no self care, and that was how I was living my life. I was living life in a muted capacity, and I lacked the motivation to do something about it—any of it.

Tony: Can you describe some of what you were feeling at that time?

Katie: I was demoralized and frustrated at what seemed like an impossible and insurmountable task—it was so daunting. Getting healthy, changing how I lived, and peeling pounds off. I wanted instant results from modest change. I’m an extrovert, and my social life at the time revolved heavily around eating out, going to bars, and generally going places where food and booze were the main reasons for being there multiple times per week. But there was a nagging voice in there that knew there was more out there for me—I just wanted to feel better, feel happy most of the time, cope better with the smaller, mundane stresses as well as major things, and sleep better.

Tony: How did these struggles and frustrations affect your life? What did you feel like before you decided to take your life back?

Katie: I felt unhappy, ashamed, and not in control of my own life, and generally was in a terrible place emotionally and physically. And if it hasn’t been stated clearly enough before, I felt like crap pretty much all the time and it wasn’t just physical—it was mental, too. I was in a fog much of the time. I didn’t handle even small stresses well, much less bigger things. I was just floating along with life rather than living the life I really wanted to live.

“I was just floating along with life rather than living the life I really wanted to live.”

READ PART 2 of this amazing story and learn what it took for Katie to make the critical changes that resulted in her being able to take her life back and overcome obesity and a lack of healthy habits and see measurable weight loss.*

*Weight loss claims and/or individual results vary and are not guaranteed.

This blog was written by Tony Maloney, ACSM Certified Exercise Physiologist and Fitness Center Manager. To find out more about the NIFS bloggers, click here.

***

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Topics: NIFS healthy habits fitness center weight loss attitude diabetes personal training heart disease Crucial Conversations obesity making changes

Thomas’s Corner: Nuts About the Nutrition in Nuts

ThinkstockPhotos-178017024Nuts, basically one of the original food groups and predating even the most basic diet, have been a part of human existence since the beginning, and there is good reason. They taste good and are loaded with nutrients. The properties and benefits of nuts vary based on each individual nut, with some options being a little healthier than others.

Nuts Are Healthiest Without Embellishment

There are some ground rules that I would like to set regarding healthy nuts. 

Try not to add chocolate to the equation. Although chocolate has its good qualities, we also know that added calories would diminish our gains from the nuts.

Salt, like chocolate, has added value in taste but is not recommended for individuals who are heart conscious. For that matter, I don’t recommend added anything, whether it be chocolate, salt, sugar, etc.

Health Benefits of Nuts

“Now wait a minute, this sounds like a lot of work,” you may say. This is where you are mistaken. Eating nuts can be an enjoyable way to get variety in your diet and healthful nutrition. For instance, almonds, cashews, pecans, brazil nuts, macadamias, pistachios, hazelnuts, and walnuts boast tons of benefits, including but not limited to fighting inflammation, improving digestion, raising immunity, lowering LDL, fighting cancer, and even making coffee taste better.

Nutritional Information About Nuts

Nuts can differ in size, shape, texture, and taste, but overall, they are fairly similar in calories per ounce and fat. The pistachio weighs in pretty light on the calorie scale at about 160 calories and 14 grams of fat per 50 nuts, while the Brazil nut is 185 calories and 18 grams of fat for 5 to 6 nuts. The healthy properties of the Brazil nut, though, outweigh the difference in that they contain a fair amount of selenium (which, in recommended doses, has been linked to fighting certain cancers).

With all the benefits nuts pose for our health, it is easy to see why they belong in the Mount Rushmore of edibles. Do yourself a favor and accentuate your diet… because nuts are taking over!

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This blog was written by Thomas Livengood. For more about the NIFS bloggers, click here.

Topics: nutrition Thomas' Corner healthy eating disease prevention immunity protein heart disease

Learn About Cardiovascular Health During American Heart Month

heart-1There is no better time to get your cardiovascular health on track than right now, during heart health month! February is American Heart Month, and a time that the CDC is trying to help us be aware that heart disease, stroke, and high blood pressure are the number-one killers of men and women. Heart disease can be scary, and although not 100% preventable in all cases, it is reassuring to know that there are thing we can do to prevent it.

Who Is at Risk for Heart Disease?

Let’s start by taking a look at understanding who is at risk for heart disease and how it can play out in your life. First off, the number of preventable deaths has gone down in recent years, but is still at an alarming number. What most of us know is that if we have a close relative who has died from cardiovascular disease, it does put us at a higher risk for getting it later in life.

Here are some things maybe you didn’t know:

  • Men are more than twice as likely as women to die from preventable heart disease.
  • Health disparities based on geography also contribute to it (in previous years, deaths due to heart disease were highest in the south and lowest in the west).
  • Race can affect your risk level. Nearly half of African American men and women have some form of heart disease, and the American Heart Association also tells us that African Americans are more likely than any other ethnic group to have high blood pressure and to develop it earlier in life.

Many of these things can be prevented by healthier habits and management of conditions.

Preventing Heart Disease

The good news is that there are some things that we can do to help prevent heart disease. Being active and exercising on a regular basis is one of the biggest things that can help! Exercising for 30 minutes a day on most days of the week and maintaining a healthy weight makes the payoff even greater. You want to have a healthy mixture of both cardiovascular exercise as well as weight training and strength training to keep yourself in tip-top shape.

Another big contributor that can help is to not smoke or chew tobacco. Chemicals in tobacco damage the blood vessels of the heart, narrow the arteries, and could lead to a heart attack.

Eating a diet that is heart healthy is also important. Foods like fruits, vegetables, and whole grains help reduce your potential risk factor as well as keeping to a low-fat diet and eating good sources of protein like chicken and fish. Getting enough sleep and keeping a low level of stress is one of the most manageable factors in heart health.

And lastly, be sure to get regular health screenings to monitor your blood pressure, cholesterol levels, and sugar levels to steer clear of diabetes and other health issues.

Managing Cardiovascular Disease

FEAR NOT! If you already have cardiovascular disease, there are still things you can do to help slow down the progress of it. Though things may seem a bit more difficult after suffering a heart attack, coronary heart disease, a blocked artery, or other cardiovascular problem, it’s vital to your health to work on many of the things listed above. Even with heart disease, things like exercising on a regular basis, maintaining healthy eating habits, keeping a healthy body weight, not smoking or using tobacco, and watching those “numbers” at the doctor’s office can significantly aid in your heart health.

Be sure to consult your cardiologist before putting an exercise plan into place in case you have any restrictions, but get started on your new way of life ASAP! And most importantly, be aware of your condition, take time to learn about it so that you can manage it the best way possible.

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This blog was written by Amanda Bireline, Health Fitness Specialist. To find out more about the NIFS bloggers, click here.


Topics: healthy habits heart disease cardiovascular

American Heart Month: Preventing and Living with Cardiovascular Disease

There is no better time to get your heart health on track than right now, during heart health month! February is American Heart Month, and a time that the CDC is trying to help us be aware that heart disease, stroke, and high blood pressure are the number-one killers of men and women. Heart disease can be scary, and although not 100% preventable in all cases, it is reassuring to know that we can help ourselves to keep it away.

Who Is at Risk for Heart Disease? heart

Let’s start by taking a look at understanding who is at risk for heart disease and how it can play out in your life. First off, the number of preventable deaths has gone down in recent years, but is still at an alarming number. What most of us know is that if we have a close relative who has died from cardiovascular disease, it does put us at a higher risk for getting it later in life.

Here are some things maybe you didn’t know:

  • Men are more than twice as likely as women to die from preventable heart disease.
  • Health disparities based on geography also contribute to it (in previous years, deaths due to heart disease were highest in the south and lowest in the west). Race can affect your risk level.
  • Nearly half of African American men and women have some form of heart disease, and the American Heart Association also tells us that African Americans are more likely than any other ethnic group to have high blood pressure and to develop it earlier in life.

Many of these things can be prevented by healthier habits and management of conditions.

Preventing Heart Disease

The good news is that there are some things that we can do to help prevent heart disease. Being active and exercising on a regular basis is one of the biggest things that can help! Exercising for 30 minutes a day on most days of the week and maintaining a healthy weight makes the payoff even greater. You want to have a healthy mixture of both cardiovascular exercise as well as weight training and strength training to keep yourself in tip-top shape.

Another big contributor that can help is to not smoke or chew tobacco. Chemicals in tobacco damage the blood vessels of the heart, narrow the arteries, and could lead to a heart attack.

Eating a diet that is heart healthy is also important. Foods like fruits, vegetables, and whole grains help reduce your potential risk factor as well as keeping to a low-fat diet and eating good sources of protein like chicken and fish. Getting enough sleep and keeping a low level of stress is one of the most manageable factors in heart health.

And lastly, be sure to get regular health screenings to monitor your blood pressure, cholesterol levels, and sugar levels to steer clear of diabetes and other health issues.

Managing Cardiovascular Disease

FEAR NOT! If you already have cardiovascular disease, there are still things you can do to help slow down the progress of it. Though things may seem a bit more difficult after suffering a heart attack, coronary heart disease, a blocked artery, or other cardiovascular problem, it’s vital to your health to work on many of the things listed above. Even with heart disease, things like exercising on a regular basis, maintaining healthy eating habits, keeping a healthy body weight, not smoking or using tobacco, and watching those “numbers” at the doctor’s office can significantly aid in your heart health.

Be sure to consult your cardiologist before putting an exercise plan into place in case you have any restrictions, but get started on your new way of life ASAP! And most importantly, be aware of your condition, take time to learn about it so that you can manage it the best way possible.

This blog was written by Amanda Bireline, Health Fitness Specialist. To find out more about the NIFS bloggers, click here.

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Topics: healthy habits heart attack disease prevention heart disease cardiovascular