February is American Heart Month: 10 Tips for a Healthy Heart
1. Stop smoking
Quitting smoking is the best thing that can be done for the heart and for overall health. Smoking is the most preventable cause of premature death in the United States, and smokers have a higher risk of developing many chronic disorders, including atherosclerosis, or the buildup of fatty substances in the arteries. When combined with other heart disease risk factors, smoking increases the risks associated with those factors. Quitting is never easy, but there are lots of helpful resources for those looking to start.
2. Know your numbers
Maintaining a healthy weight, blood pressure and total cholesterol play a significant role in maintaining a healthy heart. While there are standard guidelines for blood pressure and cholesterol, ideal weight goals are individual to each person. A physician can help determine an appropriate goal weight based on additional factors such as age and height.
3. Screen for diabetes
Untreated diabetes can lead to heart disease, among many other complications. Diabetes can be easily detected through a simple blood test and managed a variety of ways under the care of a physician.
4. Get active
Heart pumping physical activity not only helps to prevent cardiovascular disease but can also improve overall mental and physical health. The American Heart Association recommends five 30 minute moderate exercise sessions each week. While this may seem daunting, it is important to note that these sessions can be broken up into two or three 10 or 15-minute segments throughout the day. Walking, jogging, biking and swimming are all great forms of exercise. It is important to remember that something is always better than nothing. Opting to take the stairs and parking farther back in the parking lot are great ways to squeeze in activity when the time is short.
5. Build some muscle
Strength training compliments cardiovascular exercise by toning muscles and burning fat. In addition, proper strength training can improve daily functional movements, decreasing the chance of injury. The American Heart Association recommends getting in two days of moderate to high-intensity strength training each week.
6. Eat smart
A healthy diet full of heart-smart foods is essential to a healthy heart and lifestyle. Salmon, nuts, berries, and oats are just a few of the heart “superfoods” that may help reduce the risk of atherosclerosis. Dark chocolate is also on the list and is a great way to satisfy a sweet tooth (in moderation).
7. Limit junk
To reap the full benefits of a heart-healthy diet, it’s important to limit intake of nutrient-poor junk foods. Added sugars, saturated fat and excessive sodium can all negatively impact heart health, as well as overall physical health. These foods, when eaten in excess, can cause weight gain, raise blood pressure and clog arteries, which are all risk factors for heart disease.
8. Stress less
Stress increases cortisol, which leads to weight gain, a key risk factor for heart disease. In addition, stress can lead to other unhealthy habits, making it harder to stick to a heart-healthy program. Stress can also decrease overall happiness and increase the risk for anxiety and depression. Many of the items on this list can also help with reducing stress, in addition to practicing positive self-talk and incorporating mindfulness meditation breaks throughout the day.
9. Sleep more
Sleeping restores the body, helps decrease stress and increases overall happiness. To reap the full benefits, clocking seven hours each night is key. A calming bedtime routine and going to bed and waking at the same time each day are all great ways to establish healthy sleep patterns. Getting ample sunshine and physical activity throughout the day also aid in improving sleep quality.
A happy heart is a healthy heart. Making time for enjoyable activities and hobbies helps relieve stress and improves the overall mood, providing a great foundation for a heart-healthy lifestyle.