Here's to you Heart Health!
February is American Heart Health Month
Heart health is something to consider at any age and during any month. The heart is responsible for continuously pumping blood filled with vital compounds and molecules like hormones, various cells, oxygen and other nutrients around the body. This circulation allows for all the organs and parts of the body to perform the actions need to function.
Heart function is very complex; It has its own electrical system, specialized muscles, and valves which control the rate of blood flow. With such an important role in the body and the complexities of being such an intricate wonder of the world (IMO), finding ways to keep your heart healthy is key to overall wellness.
Here are 28 ideas ( February, get it?) to help keep your heart healthy based in research.
- Quit Smoking- The most controllable factor one can do to reduce heart disease risks is to stop smoking, and avoid tobaccos completely. This will help to improve blood vessels and overall health. Find support to quit now!
- Know your numbers- blood lipid numbers, blood sugar numbers, blood pressure- learn the optimal range for your sex and age, and knowing these vital numbers from yearly physicals can help you identify earlier when and where you need to make changes in your life by working with your doctor.
- Inform your Doctor- Have a heart-to-heart with your doctor about your genetic risk associated heart disease. If a close relative (mother, father, sister or brother) had a heart attack or stroke or died of cardiovascular disease (CVD) especially at a young age then the health of your heart may be at greater risk as well. This is another reason to have yearly (or more) check ups.
- Get On Up- Long periods of sitting, be it a WFH Zoom marathon or a Netflix binge-a-thon can shorten your lifespan. Research shows being sedentary can have unhealthy effects on blood sugars and blood fats, both contribute to increased heart disease risk. A growing amount of research suggests that just standing -- even if you don't walk around -- can have health benefits. To get the right balance, sit 20 minutes out of every hour at work, standing for eight minutes and moving around for at least two minutes.
- Start Moving- Its no surprise that physical activity is needed for maintaining a healthy heart. Starting with 15-20 minutes of walking a day can have a huge impact. Making movement enjoyable is key for consistency. Find something that is right for your body. Even things like household chores count towards movement. Increasing movement by simply parking father away, or taking the stairs adds to increasing heart healthy physical activity.
- Eat Breakfast- The first meal of the day is an important one. Eating a nutritious breakfast every day can help you maintain a healthy diet and weight. To build a heart-healthy meal, reach for:
whole grains, lean protein sources, and fruits and vegetables.
- Eat the Rainbow- Speaking of fruits and vegetables; the beautiful colors you see in fruits and vegetables are from antioxidants and phytonutrients. Each color is made from various chemical compounds that contribute to lower risk of heart issues and overall optimal body function. If you shoot for 1-2 servings of different color veg every day (the darker the better), by the end of the week you will be close to 30 phytonutrient packed colorful servings!
- Reduce Stress- Chronic Stress is not good for our health, but research shows the mental/ emotional stress influences blood pressure and may be associated with an increase of unhealthy heart habits (smoking, overindulging, and lack of physical activity) which can lead to increased risk of cardiovascular events. Find ways to address the stressors in your life and get support if needed.
- Dance It Out- Put on your favorite song, turn it up, and get down! Dancing makes for a great heart-healthy workout. Like other forms of aerobic exercise, it raises your heart rate and gets your lungs pumping. This can also help to improve your mood, de-stress and spend silly time with your loved one. A heart-health, family-fun activity to do with the kiddos!
- Simplify Life- Simplifying your life can go a long way to reduce stress, which can help to reduce cardiovascular risk. That could mean cleaning up or organizing your space, it could mean meal planning on the weekends, it could be up dating the family calendar, or managing your emails. Anything you can do to make your day-to-day easier can impact your wellbeing.
- Date Night- In a hectic, busy world its important to carve out time to spend with your loved one, friends and or yourself (heck yeah, solo date nights are a thing). Finding a work-life balance means making time to unwind, have fun and elevate your mood.
- Between the Sheets- A date night might lead to sex, which is another great way to improve heart health. It can elevate your heart rate, lower blood pressure and reduce stress. Studies show that having regular sexual activity reduces the risk of cardiovascular events.
- Time in the Sheets- Sleep, the other important thing you do in bed, plays a role in heart health. Studies show short sleep duration or poor sleep quality, are associated with high blood pressure, elevated cholesterol and atherosclerosis. Chronic short sleep increases the chance of cardiovascular events.
- Review Food Labels- To make heart healthy food choices, review food labels; look for low amounts saturated fats, trans fats, cholesterol, and salt. Look for food with higher amounts of dietary fibers, mono/polyunsaturated fats, and vitamins (C, E,A,D)/minerals (Iron, Calcium).
- Eat like you're visiting the Mediterranean- This means loading up on whole grains, fruits and vegetables, plant based proteins (beans, legumes, nuts), lots of fiber and unsaturated fats from olives, avocados and seeds. The Mediterranean diet plan also incudes moderate amounts of alcohol, specifically red wine, that can be protective of the heart and raise HDL to healthy levels.
- Stretch it Out- Stretching feels great! In the form a yoga it has been shown to improve cardiovascular disease risk, by reducing stress, adding movement and blood flow, reduce blood pressure.
- Brew it Up- The polyphenols and antioxidants in green tea and coffee has benefits for heart health. A recent study shows that drinking green tea and coffee lowers risk of death in people that had a cardiovascular event.
- Fill up on Fiber- Dietary fiber comes in so many foods- fruits, vegetables and whole-grains, nuts/seeds. Both soluble and insoluble fiber provides the body with all kinds of nutrients that reduces heart disease risk, lowers LDL and total cholesterol, raises HDL, improves elimination and supports the liver, balances hormones and aids to improve overall metabolic factors that influence CVD risk.
- Go Fishing- Eating a diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids can also help ward off heart disease. Many fish, such as salmon, tuna, sardines, and herring, are rich sources of omega-3 fatty acids. The American Heart Association (AHA) suggests to eat fish at least twice a week. There are non-fish sources of omega 3s found in chia, hemp, flax seeds and algae.
- Find a new Hobby- Something to help calm down and reduce stress and most importantly have fun; try knitting, wood-working, painting or sculpting, writing books or songs, cooking or puzzles.
- Take Care of your Teeth- Make sure to visit your dentist and keep up with oral hygiene, with brushing and flossing! Research has linked gum disease and heart disease. Harmful bacteria from the mouth can cause systemic inflammation leading to damaged and elevated heart disease risk.
- LOL- Laugh out loud in your daily life. Whether you like watching funny movies or cracking jokes with your friends, laughter may be good for your heart. Research suggests laughing can lower stress hormones, decrease inflammation in your arteries, and raise your levels of high-density lipoprotein (HLD), also known as “good cholesterol.” Laughing Yoga might be something to try!
- Add Soy- Products like tofu and tempeh or foods like edamame are full of soy isoflavones which are associated with lowing LDL cholesterol, controlling blood sugar and and may reduce inflammation.
- Stay Connected- Socializing can help lower your risk of cardiovascular disease, and social support can help you recover from heart health issues. Finding ways to connect with family, friends or even just meeting people will like interests is important to feeling connected and improve your health.
- Get Outside- Being outside is definitely an underrated step to supporting out bodies and especially our heart. Fresh air, trees providing oxygen and sunshine on our skin can provide Vitamin D, where insufficient Vitamin D levels are linked with CVD and type 2 diabetes.
- Have Some Dark Chocolate- Again with those delicious and nutritious flavonoids and antioxidants to help reduce inflammation and provide heart healthy. Chocolate with higher content of cacao 60% or more have more of the good stuff!
- Get Spiritual- In whatever form that fits for you...prayer, meditation, gratitude, etc. Spirituality (either demonstrative or simple and private) has been shown to relieve stress and improve mental and physical health. Research links spiritual practice with lowering blood pressure, improving sleep, and even strengthen your immune system!
- Own a Pet- Our pets offer more than good company and unconditional love. They also provide numerous health benefits. Studies suggest that owning a pet may lower your chances of dying from heart disease.