Little Lifestyle Changes Can Lead to Big Gains in Heart Health
If it seems that everyone’s talking about heart health this month, you’re right – they are! February is American Heart Month, and a good time to remind ourselves of the small changes we can make to reap positive gains for overall heart health.
Eating less and exercising more are tried and true strategies for heart health, but there are lots of easy ways to be kind to your heart. Here are a few tips from medical professionals at Harvard University, the Cleveland Clinic, and Johns Hopkins Medicine.
Diet-Related Heart Health Tips
- Start your days with a healthy breakfast. Look for whole grain options like oatmeal, whole wheat toast, or bran cereal. Add some fresh fruit to round out your meal.
- Go nuts! Peanuts, walnuts, almonds and other nuts are a heart healthy snack. Watch your portion size – just a handful of nuts is just right.
- Swap red meat for fish a few times each week. Seafood is good for your heart, brain, and for weight loss, too.
- Every day, add one more fruit or vegetable for a snack, or at a meal. Try different varieties of oranges or apples, or tropical fruits like mango, papaya, kiwi or pineapple. Each offers its own heart health benefits.
- Avoid foods with trans-fat. Trans fats are frequently found in packaged foods like cookies and snacks, and in fried fast foods. Make a point of reading food labels and choose foods with zero percent trans-fat.
Exercise-Related Heart Health Tips
- Get up out of that chair! Recent studies suggest that sitting for long periods of time without getting up to stretch or move about is bad for your health in general, and particularly so for your heart. If you must sit a lot during the day, and you’re able to walk, make a point of getting up at least once an hour to take a break.
- Get strong! Start by lifting smaller items that weigh just a few pounds to exercise your arm muscles. Start slow and with low weight, then progress as you’re able.
- Walk the walk. Walking is the best way for non-exercisers to start moving again. Start with short walks in your home, in your neighborhood, or at the store. Aim for 10 minutes at a comfortable pace; push yourself to walk longer or faster as you’re able. Try to get a walk in every day.
Personal Care-Related Heart Health Tips
- Wash your hands often to avoid bugs like pneumonia and the flu, which can be hard on the heart. Frequent handwashing – especially during the winter – is an easy, often overlooked way stay well and protect your heart.
- Floss daily, especially in the evening. Flossing your teeth every day lessens your risk of developing gum disease, which, when developed, puts you at increased risk for heart disease and stroke.
Mental Health-Related Heart Health Tips
- Take a deep breath. Slow, deep breathing for a few minutes each day may help you relax and can also help lower blood pressure. Find a quiet place where you can focus on you.
- Practice gratitude. Recognizing the good things in your life helps you connect with other positive emotions like happiness, joy, and love. Worry and anger can take a toll on your well-being, contributing to high blood pressure and heart disease. Practicing positivity has the opposite, heart healthy effect.
- Make sleep a priority. Try for 7 to 8 hours of quality sleep each night. Too little sleep may contribute to high blood pressure and inflammation. Avoiding alcohol and limiting screen time before you head to bed can help you get a better night’s sleep.
Some Final Tips
If you’ve never had a medical professional assess your heart health and your risk for developing heart disease, February is the perfect month to make that appointment. Get your blood pressure and cholesterol checked. If you’re diabetic, follow doctor’s orders to stay healthy and avoid complications that can impact your heart. Steer clear of second-hand smoke throughout your day, and finally, if you smoke cigarettes or other tobacco products, get the help you need to quit. While not an easy task or tip, it may be the most important lifestyle change you can make for a healthier heart.