Low-cost tips for better heart health

February 24, 2014

February is American Heart Month, so it’s an ideal time to think about what lifestyle changes you could make to improve your heart health. Exercising regularly and improving your diet are two major ways you can increase your heart health, but what if you’re on a tight budget? Luckily, you don’t have to join a gym or purchase expensive foods to make heart-healthy changes. Read on for our tips to improve heart health without breaking the bank!

Know your numbers. It’s a good idea to establish your baseline numbers, which can help you understand what kinds of healthy changes to make. Visit your family doctor to find out your blood pressure, cholesterol, triglycerides, weight, and body mass index (BMI). You can also get your blood pressure and weight checked for free at many popular pharmacies. Also, keep an eye on the events calendar at work—if your employer is having a health fair, you may be able to find out all those numbers at no cost to you!

Quit tobacco. Tobacco use is a major cause of heart disease. If you use tobacco, consider the many benefits of quitting. Not only will you be healthier for it, you’ll also save a lot of money! Click here to use the American Cancer Society’s Smoking Cost calculator, which will help you see how much money you’re spending on tobacco products.

If you are having a tough time quitting, seek help. Check with your employer to see if a free smoking cessation program is offered at your workplace. If not, there are several organizations that can help you quit smoking. Some resources include:

American Cancer Society:

Toll-free hotline: 1-800-ACS-2345


 National Cancer Institute:

Toll-free hotline: 1-877-44U-QUIT


Eat heart-healthy noshes. Instead of snacking on kettle chips, cheese curls, or other processed, fattening treats, reach for nuts, raw veggies, or fresh fruit. According to the Cleveland Clinic, snacking on a few walnuts before a meal can help decrease inflammation in the arteries surrounding your heart, plus help you stay fuller so that you don’t overeat. And the plant sterols in peanuts, macadamia nuts, and almonds can help lower LDL (often known as “bad”) cholesterol. Just make sure to watch your serving sizes when you eat nuts—although they’re often heart-healthy, they are not a low-calorie food. To save money, consider buying nuts and other healthy snacks in bulk.

Swap out the salt. Too much salt can damage blood vessels and increase your risk of developing high blood pressure. Try flavoring your food with herbs and spices instead of salt. Spices add healthy flavor to your meals without adding salt or fat. Experiment with different spices—buy small containers of garlic, ginger, rosemary, paprika, or any other spice or herb that interests you. Try them out in recipes and see which ones you enjoy most.

Go for a walk. According to the American Heart Association, you can reduce your risk of heart disease by engaging in as little as 30 minutes of aerobic exercise 5 times a week. This includes walking! There are so many great places to walk—in your neighborhood, a local park, your favorite mall or shopping center, outside your office at lunchtime…the possibilities are endless. And better yet, walking around any of these places won’t cost you a cent!

Unplug and unwind. Stress can raise your heart rate and blood pressure. To combat stress, take some time each day to unwind at home. Step away from your laptop, turn off your smartphone, and do something that relaxes you, such as read a book, do a workout, have dinner with a friend, or take a soothing soak in the bathtub.

Get your ZZZs. People who don’t get enough sleep are at a higher risk of obesity, high blood pressure, and heart attack, according to the Mayo Clinic. Most adults need 7 to 9 hours of sleep per night. Make sleep a priority by setting a schedule for yourself. Get up at the same time each day and go to bed at the same time each day—even on weekends. Plus, keep your bedroom dark, cool, and quiet to promote better sleep.

For more healthy, low-cost ideas, check out The Healthcare Survival Guide!


Low-Cost, Heart-Healthy Recipes

September 16, 2013

September 29th is recognized by the World Heart Federation as World Heart Day. And, with World Heart Day just around the corner, we thought a fun way to get into the spirit would be to offer some delicious, heart-healthy recipes from the American Heart Association (AHA). These heart-healthy meals are not only great for you, but they’re also great for your wallet –many of the ingredients are inexpensive, and some recipes include ingredients you may already have in your pantry. Here are just a few ideas—you can get more here at the AHA Nutrition Center.  Get cooking today!


Main Dishes:

Lime-Jalapeno Chicken

What you’ll need:

  • 1/4 cup lime juice (about 2 limes)
  • 2 tablespoons canola oil
  • 1 tablespoon white vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 jalapeno, sliced
  • 1 to 1 1/4 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts, trimmed of fat, tendons removed

Cooking Instructions:

  • Combine lime juice, oil, vinegar, cumin and salt in a small bowl.
  • Stir in jalapeno.
  • Place chicken in a baking dish and pour the marinade you just made over it, turning to coat both sides.
  • Preheat grill to high heat.
  • Oil the grill rack.
  • Grill the chicken until cooked through and no longer pink in the middle, 3 to 4 minutes per side.
  • Let cool slightly; thinly slice crosswise. Serve warm or chilled.

Chef’s Tip: Serve with black beans and salsa!


Black Bean-Smothered Sweet Potatoes

What you’ll need:

  • 2 medium sweet potatoes
  • 1 15-ounce can black beans, rinsed
  • 1 medium tomato, diced
  • 2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons reduced-fat sour cream
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro

Cooking Instructions:

  • Prick sweet potatoes with a fork in several places. Microwave on High until tender all the way to the center, 12 to 15 minutes. (Alternatively, place in a baking dish and bake at 425ºF until tender all the way to the center, about 1 hour.)
  • Meanwhile, combine beans, tomato, oil, cumin, coriander and salt in a medium microwave-safe bowl; microwave on High until just heated through, 2 to 3 minutes. (Alternatively, heat in a small saucepan over medium heat.)
  • When just cool enough to handle, slash each sweet potato lengthwise, press open to make a well in the center, and spoon the bean mixture into the well. Top each with a dollop of sour cream and a sprinkle of cilantro.

Chef’s Tip: Great for vegetarians!


Sides and Snacks:

Green Bean Salad with Corn, Basil & Black Olives

What you’ll need:

  • 2 pounds green beans, trimmed
  • 3 ears corn, husked
  • 1/2 small red bell pepper, finely chopped
  • 1 small red onion, finely chopped
  • 2/3 cup black olives, halved and pitted
  • 1/3 cup chopped fresh basil
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • 3 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • Hot sauce, such as Tabasco, to taste
  • Salt & freshly ground pepper to taste

Cooking Instructions:

  • Put a large pot of water on to boil.
  • Fill another large pot half full with ice water. Blanch about half the green beans in the boiling water just until tender, 1 to 2 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon and plunge into the ice water. Transfer to a large bowl. Repeat with the remaining beans.
  • Return the water to a boil. Add corn and blanch until tender but still crisp, about 3 minutes. Drain and immediately plunge into the ice water. Cut the kernels off the cobs.
  • Add the corn to the beans in the bowl. Add bell pepper, onion, olives, basil, oil, vinegar, lemon juice and garlic; toss to mix well.
  • Season with hot sauce, salt and pepper.

Chef’s Tip: This dish can be made days in advance and will last a few days if refrigerated properly.


Red and Green Bell Pepper Bites

What you’ll need:

  • 1 medium green bell pepper
  • 1 medium red bell pepper
  • 1/4 cup sliced almonds
  • 4 ounces fat-free or reduced-fat cream cheese, softened
  • 1 teaspoon no-salt lemon pepper seasoning blend
  • 1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice

Cooking Instructions:

  • Cut each bell pepper in half lengthwise; discard the stems, ribs and seeds. Cut each half into six pieces. Arrange the pieces with the skin side down on a decorative serving platter. Set aside.
  • In a medium skillet, dry-roast the almonds over medium heat for 3 to 4 minutes, or until golden brown, stirring occasionally.
  • Transfer 1 tablespoon of the almonds to a small plate and reserve for garnishing. Process the remaining almonds in a food processor or blender for 15 to 20 seconds, or until finely ground.
  • In a medium mixing bowl, beat the cream cheese, lemon pepper seasoning blend, and lemon juice with an electric mixer for 1 to 2 minutes, or until creamy. Add the ground almonds and beat for 10 seconds, or until combined.
  • Spoon the mixture into a piping bag fitted with a wide star or round tip. Or snip the corner off a resalable plastic bag (a plastic freezer bag works well) and spoon in the mixture. Pipe about 1 teaspoon of the mixture onto each bell pepper piece.
  • Garnish with the sliced almonds.

Keep Your Heart Healthy on a Budget

February 27, 2012

In the United States, someone dies from cardiovascular disease every 33 seconds, according to The Heart Foundation.  In honor of American Heart Month, Health Advocate Inc. and The Healthcare Survival Guide offer the following tips on how you can reduce the risks associated with developing heart disease on a low-cost budget.  

Keep moving. The American Heart Association says that exercising for even 30 minutes a day can reduce your risk of heart disease. And keeping a healthy weight can be helpful for your heart. If you need to lose weight, increasing your physical activity can also help you lose pounds.

If you can’t afford an expensive gym membership and you want to stay fit, there are several low-cost alternatives you can try.  Consider these ideas to help you jumpstart your fitness goals.

Try to take a brisk walk every day, whether it’s at the park, your neighborhood or local mall. Take the stairs instead of the elevator. If you’re driving, consider parking the car father away from your destination in order to get in some extra walking. You can even make a workout from your household chores. Cleaning the house, gardening and raking leaves are some good ideas to increase physical activity and get the heart pumping. 

If you’re looking to enhance your workout, you don’t have to spend a lot of money on fancy equipment to get the results you’re looking for. Many household items make perfect low-cost substitutes. For example, canned goods or milk gallons can serve as hand weights. You can reuse the empty jugs and fill them with water or sand and adjust the weights to better meet your fitness level changes by adding more sand or water.  If you have a step stool, you can use that or a set of stairs for step training.

Jump ropes are also fairly inexpensive and jumping rope can be a great cardiovascular workout. If you don’t want to purchase one, you can use clothesline rope. Just cut it down to the size you’re looking for. Also, think about trying exercise videos and DVDs, which can create the feel of a gym in your own home.

If you are interested in taking an exercise class and don’t want to break the bank, check out your local community recreational department. Many offer discounted fitness classes to local residents.

Eat right.  Eating plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables as well as fiber-rich whole grain foods can help reduce cholesterol and keep blood sugar at healthy levels, according to the Mayo Clinic. Use sodium-free or reduced sodium soups, gravies and sauces, and avoid drinking sugar-sweetened beverages. Eat more oily fish that is high in Omega -3 fatty acids, such as salmon, Arctic char and mackerel to keep your heart healthy.  

It can be easy to eat healthy without spending too much money. Consider the following ideas when grocery shopping.

Look for sales and coupons on fresh fruits and vegetables. Choose larger bags of fruit (like apples, oranges and pears) instead of the single fruits that are priced per pound.

Look for generic brands. Generics provide great savings and have the same nutritional value and ingredients as the popular brand names. 

Skip the bottled water; drink tap water. If you prefer bottled water, buy the larger gallon size instead of the smaller single bottles.

Stroll through the frozen goods aisle. Many fruits are out of season in the winter and those that are available are usually imported and very expensive.  Look for frozen fruits instead. Buying a frozen bag of berries can be an inexpensive and healthy option. Also consider canned fruits, such as peaches, in 100 percent fruit juice.

Quit smoking.  Smoking is one of the leading risk factors to coronary heart disease. According to the American Heart Association, smoking decreases your tolerance for physical activity and increases the tendency for blood to clot. It decreases HDL, which is a “good” kind of cholesterol. Your risks increase greatly if you smoke and have a family history of heart disease. Smoking also creates a higher risk for peripheral artery disease and aortic aneurysm. It increases the risk of recurrent coronary heart disease after bypass surgery, too.

If you are having a hard time quitting, there is help. Check with your employer to see if a smoking cessation program is offered. If not, there are several organizations that can help you quit smoking. Some resources include:

American Cancer Society Toll-free hotline: 1-800-ACS-2345, www.cancer.org

National Cancer Institute: Toll-free hotline: 1-877-44U-QUIT, www.smokefree.gov

Stay cool, calm and collected. Keeping stress levels at a minimum can also lower your blood pressure. To help manage your stress, try meditation or yoga. Yoga actually helps to lower blood pressure and decreases the heart rate, according to the Mayo Clinic. Exercising can also relieve tension. Going for a brisk walk can increase the production of endorphins, the brain’s feel-good neurotransmitters, according to the Mayo Clinic.  

If you find it too overwhelming to keep stress at a minimum, try talking to your physician, health provider, clergy or counselor.  You can also contact the National Alliance on Mental Illness: www.nami.org, 1-800-950-NAMI (6264). Each state has its own chapter.

Keeping yourself healthy through exercise, lifestyle and eating right may help to minimize the risk of developing heart disease down the road. If you already have high blood pressure or have a heart condition, it can also help you manage your condition. You don’t have to spend a fortune to be healthy. Eating right, working out and making some lifestyle changes can be easily done on a low-cost budget.  Remember to always talk to your doctor first before starting any new exercise or dieting routine.

Wellness Events – June

June 7, 2011

As a part of our ongoing effort to help you find the best care at the lowest cost, we bring to you this month’s list of free & low-cost wellness events.

Take a look for an event near you, and be sure to check previous entries for any recurring events (which are indicated by a *).

Detroit, MI – Diabetes Education (6/8, Free); Men’s Health Month Seminar (6/9, Free); The New Healthcare Law – What it Means for You (6/9, Free); Sleep Apnea/Treatment Options (6/9, Free)

Cross River, NY – Free Community Wellness Day – Topics include holistic health, stress reduction, Homeopathic Medicine for Chronic Conditions, Meditations, Diabetes, ADD/ADHD, Nutrition (6/11, Free)

Houston, TX – Free AHA Wellness Conference for African American Women. Includes sessions on heart health, cooking healthy foods, physical activity (6/11, Free)

Mount Shasta, CA – Caregiver Class (6/8, Free)

Topeka, KS Cost is unspecified. Health & Wellness Fair: more than 30 area health and wellness groups, educational resources, screenings (6/15)

Memphis, TN – ACS Look Good, Feel Better Program (6/13, 23, Free); Stroke Survivor Group (6/7, Free); Crohn’s/Colitis Support Group (6/7, Cost Unspecified); Weight Loss Seminar (6/7, Free); Men’s Health Summit (6/11, Cost Unspecified)

We will continue to update this list over the course of the month, so check back regularly! If you come across any events we missed, please let us know in the comments section below!

To stay up-to-date on health news, wellness tips, and cost-saving healthcare advice, you can follow us @HealthSurvival and “like” our Facebook page here.