February is traditionally the month we celebrate the heart, be it Valentines Day with candy hearts, Go Red for Women, or the American Heart Month. It also happens to be the month of my wedding anniversary, so hearts and celebrations abound for me!
My mother recently suffered a stroke, as a result of a poor-functioning heart. So in honor of mom, I wanted to do something different this month. Heart Disease is responsible for 1 in 4 deaths in the U. S., making it the number one cause. As February is the American Heart Association’s American Heart Month, I wanted to share 10 tips to inspire you to know the signs and to keep your heart healthy.
1 – Know the Risks and Signs
It all starts with knowing what the risks for developing heart disease are, so you can avoid them or start making changes. You are at greatest risk if:
- You have high blood pressure
- You are overweight
- You smoke
- You don’t get enough exercise
- You don’t eat a healthy diet
And it’s also important to know the signs of heart trouble or stroke, so you know when to call 9-1-1. Women have different symptoms then men. Read more about those signs here.
2 – Random Act of Kindness
Sunday, February 17th is RAOK Day. Did you know that doing something nice for others is a great way to lower your stress and your blood pressure? Here are some simple ideas.
3 – Raise Your Glass
Enjoy National Drink Wine Day on the 18th. Did you know that a glass of red wine contains anti-oxidants that may help prevent coronary artery disease, increase the High-Density Lipoproteins (HDLs – the good cholesterol), and reduce the formation of blood clots. Just don’t over-indulge! Men should limit themselves to 2 drinks a day and women to 1! Cheers!
4 – Love Your Pet
Pet your dog or cat on Love Your Pet Day on the 20th. Having a pet can help reduce your stress, improve your cardiovascular health, and encourage you to exercise more.
5 – Get Moving More
Speaking of exercise, the 22nd is Walking the Dog Day. So get outside with Fido and get moving. Physical activity can help you maintain a healthy weight and lower your blood pressure, cholesterol, and sugar levels.
If walking isn’t your thing or the weather is too cold where you are, try yoga. There are a myriad of benefits it can bring, including lowering chronic stress, which helps your heart. Read more of my blog posts about yoga here and here.
6 – Monitor Your Blood Pressure
Don’t wait until you’re at the doctor’s office. By monitoring your blood pressure at home, you know your numbers and can take action to make changes right away if your BP is getting too high. Do some deep breathing, practice meditation or yoga, or look for other ways to relax and lower your immediate stress levels.
7 – Follow a Healthy Diet
You should be cutting back on processed foods, things high in saturated fats, and salt. Adding different spices to food rather than salt is one healthy hack you can make that is flavorful and good for your heart.
And increasing your fiber is great for your heart. This means fruits, veggies, and healthy grains. Try a bowl of oatmeal with blueberries for breakfast. A big leafy green salad for lunch. And how about some lean chicken, quinoa, and grilled veggies for dinner?
8 – Enjoy Dark Chocolate
Well it was just Valentines Day, after all. You didn’t think I would overlook an opportunity to promote dark chocolate, did you? The key is moderation and good quality chocolate. We don’t want to over-indulge. But dark chocolate certainly has health benefits for us, like:
- Antioxidants found in cocoa, can lower the risk of heart disease
- Flavenols improve blood flow and lower blood pressure
- Cocoa powder raises HDL (the good cholesterol) and lowers LDL (the bad one)
9 – Laughter is the Best Medicine
Laughter is linked to healthy function of blood vessels, by expanding them to allow for blood flow. (Stress has the opposite effect, constricting vessels and the flow of blood.) And laughter reduces the stress hormones in the body. And all of the smiling releases endorphins, which attacks cortisol – the stress hormone.
10 – Get Your Zzzzzzs
Sleeping will help you lower your stress and cortisol levels, help the body and mind recharge, and increase happiness. All things that are good for your heart. Incorporating some healthy practices for winding down – like putting electronics in the other room, going to bed and waking up at the same time, and taking a bath – will help you achieve your sleep goals. Read more about How to Sleep Better.
I try my best to follow a heart healthy lifestyle, given all of my other health challenges, so I do practice what I preach! And keep in mind that even a fitness guru like Bob Harper can have heart troubles. It’s all about making little lifestyle changes that will have a lasting impact.
I hope I have inspired you to make a change or two to protect your heart this month and given you some ideas to do something different. We all should have long, healthy lives!