With Valentine’s Day on the calendar, hearts are top of mind in February. It is also American Heart Month. Heart disease is the leading killer of Americans. A healthy heart is a gift to yourself, your family and friends that will last longer than flowers and candy. Here are five ways to show your heart some love.
Do your heart a favor and put down the cigarettes. Smokers have a higher risk of developing cardiovascular disease than nonsmokers. A nicotine addiction can lead to hardened arteries, aneurysm and blood clots. There are many resources available to help smokers end this deadly habit. The American Lung Association has an online support program. The positive impact of smoke-free living is almost immediate. According to the American Heart Association and the U.S. Surgeon General, your blood pressure and heart rate decrease in the first 20 minutes after quitting.
Cut The Salt
The American Heart Association recommends consuming less than 1,500 milligrams of sodium a day. Too much sodium can cause excess fluid in the body that makes your heart work overtime. Packaged, processed foods are the main source of sodium in most people’s diets. Fill your grocery cart with fresh or frozen fruits and vegetables, dried beans, lentils and unsalted nuts. Select low-sodium versions of your favorite foods. There are a variety of spices, herbs and flavorings that provide an alternative to salt. For example, allspice, fresh lemon juice and onion power are delicious on lean meats. Try chives, garlic or cider vinegar to season your vegetables.
Consume Fewer Sugar-Sweetened Drinks
Soda, sweetened ice teas, and energy and coffee drinks have unneeded sugar and calories. Research shows that drinking two or more sugar-sweetened beverages daily can increase a woman’s risk of heart disease. These drinks are also associated with higher blood pressure levels in adults. If these types of drinks are a regular part of your diet, cut back a little each week. Replace sweetened beverages with water as much as possible. You can also treat yourself to a homemade smoothie made with fat-free milk, frozen fruit and nonfat Greek yogurt with no added sugars.
Studies have found that every hour of very brisk walking may add about two hours to the life expectancy of some adults. Walking is a flexible activity that is easy to build into your daily routine. Take the stairs instead of the elevator. Park at the furthest end of the parking lot. Get a break from the office by taking a short walk during your lunch hour. The American Heart Association recommends that adults get at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise five days a week for overall cardiovascular health. Regular exercise lowers blood pressure, keeps body weight under control and increases “good” cholesterol. You’ll also prevent bone loss, sleep better and reduce your risk of cancer.
Stress affects your body in many ways. It can cause aches and pains, trigger feelings of anxiety and depression, and lower your energy. Many people respond to stress with harmful behaviors such as overeating and drinking too much alcohol. These actions can lead to high blood pressure and cholesterol. Protect your heart by learning to relieve stress with healthy practices. Positive self-talk, deep breathing, reading a good book or chatting with a close friend are all ways to calm down. Make time for daily relaxation to keep your stress in check.
These are only a few changes that you can make in your life to improve your heart health. Another important practice is to have regular checkups with your doctor to make sure things like blood pressure and cholesterol are at healthy levels. A happy heart is in your best interest.