If you’ve made the decision to overcome addiction, you’re already taking a step in the right direction toward improving your health. Drugs and alcohol can take a damaging toll on the body, but effective treatment and long-term sobriety can help to combat some of these effects. Taking steps to protect your heart and improve your overall well-being can also support recovery efforts and reduce risk of relapse.
February is National Heart Month and a great time to focus on making changes that will benefit your heart health. In fact, many of the same strategies for promoting heart health align with those for long-term addiction recovery.
Understanding Heart Disease
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “Heart disease is the leading cause of death for women in the United States.” While some risk factors are genetic, there are others that are more within your control such as physical activity, smoking, alcohol use, obesity, and diet. Factors such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and uncontrolled diabetes are also risks. Heart disease affects the flow of blood to and from the heart and can put women at increased risk for coronary artery disease, stroke, heart attack, heart failure, or arrhythmias.
Heart disease can strike with little to no symptoms. For women, signs of a heart attack differ from those for men. The most common symptom is pain or tightness in the chest, but women may also experience:
- Pain in the jaw, neck, or back
- Shortness of breath
- Nausea or vomiting
- Fluttering feeling in the heart
- Appetite loss
How Alcohol Can Affect the Heart
Women struggling with active addiction may put themselves at higher risk for heart problems. While some studies show that there may be benefits to drinking, the risks can far outweigh these positives, and there are often healthier ways to achieve similar results. Excessive drinking can lead to high blood pressure and weaken heart muscles. This causes the heart to have to work harder to pump effectively. Frequent drinking can also contribute to heart arrhythmias or irregular heartbeat. This makes it even more essential for those in recovery to be proactive about creating a heart-healthy lifestyle and improving their health.
Taking Steps to Create a Heart-Healthy Lifestyle
Crossroads supports women in building healthy routines in recovery. From promoting better mental health and communication to encouraging physical exercise, healthy eating, and other activities, addiction treatment encompasses all aspects of a women’s life and recovery. These are just a few strategies for helping to reduce risk of heart disease while also supporting continued sobriety:
- Stop drinking and drug use
This is one of the most obvious for those in recovery. Drugs and alcohol can be very hard on the body and exacerbate other health conditions, including heart problems. Completing treatment at a drug and alcohol rehab center like Crossroads is recommended for effectively overcoming addiction.
- Quit smoking
Smoking fills your lungs with toxins and can be damaging to the heart. It can lead to an increase of plaque buildup in the arteries of the heart (atherosclerosis), constricts blood vessels which decreases the flow of blood and oxygen, can increase blood pressure, and damages heart tissue. By quitting smoking, you allow your body to recover and reduce the risk of heart disease. While in treatment for drug or alcohol addiction, you can also include quitting smoking.
- Increase physical activity
Exercise is great for heart health. It gets your heart pumping, blood flowing, and oxygen moving. Regular physical activity can reduce your risk of diabetes, lower blood pressure, and help with weight management. All of these benefits also help your heart. Try to get at least 30 minutes of moderate intensity activity five or more days per week.
Exercising doesn’t have to mean laboring at the gym either. Go for a run or brisk walk along your favorite nature trail, ride your bike, go for a swim, practice yoga or Pilates, take a fitness class, or play sports such as soccer, tennis, or basketball. Physical activity releases endorphins in the brain which are a natural mood booster and can leave you feeling more energized. It is also a wonderful way to reduce stress and tension, which is important for heart health and addiction recovery.
- Eat a well-balanced diet
Creating a heart-healthy diet means limiting sodium, saturated fats, trans fats, red meat, and added sugars. Focus instead on increasing the number of fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean meats, legumes, and nuts you eat – within moderation of course. Instead of adding salt or prepackaged flavoring, opt for more herbs and spices. They can be a healthier choice for increasing flavor without increasing sodium or sugar. Try to make more fresh meals at home instead of cooking up boxed meals or going out to eat. Don’t forget to stay hydrated too by drinking plenty of water.
- Manage other health conditions
If you have diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, or other health conditions, make sure that they are well controlled. Incorporate management strategies for these issues into your plan for improving heart health while supporting addiction recovery. Diet and exercise can be beneficial for managing many of these conditions, so while focusing on your heart and overall health, you may be treating other issues as well.
It is also a good idea to engage in regular screenings for blood pressure, cholesterol, and diabetes, in addition to heart disease. Early detection can allow you to treat problems before they become more serious and take a toll on your heart.
Many of the same strategies used to promote heart health also have a positive impact on other aspects of your life. Incorporating these changes not only reduces your risk of heart disease, but also promotes sobriety, reduces stress, enhances mental health, encourages socialization, and establishes healthier routines.
Crossroads helps women to get involved in a variety of activities such as yoga, meditation, equine therapy, and recreational activities as an integral part of addiction recovery. Treatment promotes improved physical, mental, emotional, social, and spiritual health. Women learn more about how to make their health and well-being a priority while reducing risk of relapse.
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