As February ends, it’s time to wrap up Heart Health month. Whether you found someone who stole your heart, broke someone’s heart, or got your heart broken, you still need a heart-healthy lifestyle. If you’re looking for ways to make lasting changes that will improve health, stick around.
Your heart is the most important muscle that ensures oxygen and nutrients are reaching every corner of your body. On average, your heart moves 1.5 gallons of blood per minute and beats over 100,000 times per day. Despite being your most powerful and vital organ, many people neglect the health of their heart, whether or not they know it.
Heart disease is the number one leading cause of death worldwide, and has been the leading cause of death in the United States since 1950. While your genetics can play a role in your risk for heart disease, lifestyle choices can make or break your heart health.
There’s no better time to improve heart health than now, so let’s explore ways you can show your heart some love.
Food for Thought
Carefully choosing what you eat is a simple way to manage your heart health. Though it may seem repetitive, eating a balanced diet will make more of an impact than you think. Especially when you incorporate these foods into your diet:
- Find much-needed fiber in beans, legumes and oats
- Feast on fruits such as apples, berries and grapes
- Go for fish like salmon, tuna and mackerel
- Opt for veggies like leafy greens, carrots and tomatoes
- Compliment your meal with whole grains like brown rice, whole-grain bread and pasta
If you have trouble eating greens or vegetables, there are plenty of ways to prepare them! Try sautéing them with avocado oil and adding a pinch of garlic salt. Or, blend greens with low-fat or dairy-free milk and some frozen fruit.
While deliciously tempting, processed and refined foods contain higher amounts of sugar, fat and sodium. You might be surprised next time you look up the nutrition facts on your favorite fast food meal. Try swapping your fries for a salad or fruit next time you’re in a pinch and need a quick meal.
Completely cutting out processed and fast foods isn’t realistic for everyone, so find balance. Cut down multiple times a week to once a week or every other week. Or, if you’re looking for ways to limit fast food, try meal planning and prepping. You’ll have more control over what goes into your body. Plus, it’ll save you money J
Learn to Love Movement
Exercise is something nearly everyone can do to strengthen the heart muscle and improve cardio health. Just 20 minutes a day can make a big impact on your life, your health and your longevity. According to the American Heart Association, only about one in five adults and teens gets enough exercise to maintain good health. A regular exercise routine can help:
- improve the muscles’ ability to pull oxygen from the blood, which reduces the load on the heart
- reduce stress hormones that may put an extra burden on the heart
- increase good cholesterol (HDL) and control triglycerides
- reduce inflammation
- lower the risk of heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, dementia and several types of cancer
- improve sleep, bone health and balance
- reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety
An optimal exercise routine for heart health combines aerobic exercises and resistance training. It can be as simple or complex as you make it. Not in a place to start heavily training? No problem. Find ways that work for your body!
- Walking is the easiest form of movement. Sitting at a desk all day? Take a lap. If you don’t know where else to start, start by walking!
- Swimming works out the whole body, including the heart, lungs and all major muscle groups. It may be one of the best all-around exercises for people who want to stay physically active. Time your first swim session; then add 1-2 minutes onto each successive swim until you get to at least 30 minutes.
- Cycling is a great way to enjoy getting out and moving. Not a fan of outdoor cycling? No problem. There are plenty of affordable stationary bikes on the market.
- Yardwork offers a decent workout. Digging, planting, raking, mowing and watering plants get you moving and sweating.
- Weightlifting strengthens muscles and bones, and it doesn’t require a home gym or a rack of weights. Heavy gardening, carrying groceries, chopping wood and other chores will provide the resistance you need.
Toss the Tobacco and Limit the Alcohol
Smoking causes more than 480,000 deaths per year in the United States with 41,000 deaths from secondhand smoke. The chemicals found in cigarettes create plaque buildup in the arteries leading to coronary heart disease, heart attacks and strokes. It is completely preventable and there are plenty of resources to help support you or loved ones working to quit. 1-800-QUIT-NOW (1-800-784-8669) offers free plans and coaching to help those looking to stop smoking.
Sometimes seen as the lesser of two evils, alcohol can still wreak havoc on your heart. Excessive alcohol consumption can result in higher blood pressure, heart failure, or stroke. Additionally, alcohol can often contain empty calories, which can lead to weight gain, another factor that can stress out your heart.
In Through Your Nose, Out Through Your Mouth
Take a deep breath. No matter where you are, or what you’re experiencing. Chronic and unmanaged stress causes cortisol levels to rise, affecting many body systems. One study found that chronic stress is associated with coronary artery disease, buildup in and on artery walls and a higher chance of blood clots. Doing a quick meditation or yoga flow can help your body reset after a stressful situation.
Love Yourself, and Your Heart
You can’t control your genetics, environmental pollution or certain sources of stress. But you can control your diet, whether or not you smoke, your activity level and your stress—all which can help you stave off heart disease and promote cardiovascular health.