Your heart spreads love to the people around you. But you may forget how important it is to take care of it and keep it healthy. If we’ve developed unhealthy habits, our heart could suffer the consequences – congestive heart failure, coronary artery disease, and even cardiac arrest! So, have you been giving your heart enough love lately? If not, it’s time to start!
Time to Make a Change
February is American Heart Month. Do you know what that means? It’s the perfect time to start taking care of your heart! But don’t feel like you need to make the changes happen all at once. Instead, tiny steps create small wins to reach a larger goal. No matter what you do – move more or eat better – you can work toward a healthy heart. Here are a few ways to start down the path to a healthier you.
What’s Up, Doc?
We often don’t believe heart disease will affect us or those we love, but it can. Each year, 1 in 4 people die of heart disease, but it doesn’t have to be you. Before you begin your wellness journey, you need to know your numbers. Knowing your blood pressure and cholesterol levels is beneficial to give you a goal to aim for. Here are the target numbers:
- Systolic (top number) – no higher than 120
- Diastolic (bottom number) – no higher than 80
- LDL should be less than 100 mg/dL
- HDL should be 60 ml/dL or higher
- Total cholesterol should be less than 200
Exercise is the Best Medicine
Are you getting enough physical activity each week? Being overweight and having a sedentary lifestyle will put a large strain on your heart. Exercise is a great way to keep your heart in good shape and maintain a healthy weight! Add a few minutes of physical activity into your schedule each day until you get at least 150 minutes a week of exercise. That’s only 20 minutes a day! Losing just 5% of your body weight dramatically lowers your risk of stroke, heart disease, and diabetes. For a 200-pound person, that’s only 10 pounds. You can do that!
Eat Healthy to Your Heart’s Content
Along with physical activity, it is important to eat healthier to reduce your risk of heart disease. Avoid a diet high in sodium, saturated fats, and sugar. Try to incorporate veggies, fruits, whole grains, fish, vegetable oils, and fat-free or low-fat dairy products. When you combine eating better and exercising, you’ll lower your body weight and your risk for chronic disease.
For instance, if you want to have a snack, make it heart-healthy! Try swapping an unhealthy snack for a more nutritious one. Instead of a candy bar, try an apple. Instead of potato chips, how about some carrots with hummus? And remember to take portioned snacks with you to eat throughout the day to avoid overeating.
Ready, Get Set, Quit!
Did you know the chemicals in tobacco can damage your heart and blood vessels? If you smoke, motivate yourself by setting a day to quit. It could save your life! No one else can take action to quit but you. If you need assistance in quitting, talk to your doctor. He or she may prescribe NRT (nicotine replacement therapy) aids to help curb the cravings.
Count Your Z’s
Quality sleep is vital for keeping your body healthy. It’s true! Getting 7-8 hours of sleep each night boosts your immune system, manages your hunger levels, improves memory, and reduces your chances of developing heart disease. Need some help falling asleep? Practice ways to relax before you go to bed. Turn off the TV, put down the phone, listen to soothing music, or meditate –this can help you fall asleep and improve the quality of your sleep.
You’re Not Alone
It’s hard to continue your way to wellness when you lack the motivation or you feel alone. Having support from friends and family is important to help you achieve your goals.
Here are a few examples to maintain a high level of motivation while encouraging the people around you to love their hearts too:
- Spread the love – Spend good quality time with your significant other, children, friends, family, or coworkers by planning a fun date together. Get active or cook a wholesome meal!
- Step your way to a healthier heart – Create a step contest with your friends or coworkers. See who can get the most steps each month. Make it extra fun by awarding prizes to those who excel!
- Set up an online support group – You’re not alone in this journey to a healthier heart. Make sure you let others know they have your support. All of you will become inspired by each other’s stories.
- Spread awareness – Heart disease is the leading cause of death for men and women. Raise awareness this month by actively talking about heart health and ways to keep the people around you healthy.
- Make a contract – Choose several family members who want to lose weight and make a contract to be healthier with them. Provide support and encouragement so you can love your hearts together!
Raising Awareness for Women
While heart disease is the No. 1 killer of both genders, it is important to spread awareness for women as they often do not experience the same symptoms as men. On February 7th, in support of women’s heart health, wear red to raise awareness. Your involvement could help decrease the incidences of heart disease and stroke! Check out this video, Watch Me Go Red, from the American Heart Association.
This blog was written by Miranda Smudzinski, USPM Health & Wellness Content Contributor