I love you. You’re my sweetheart. I only have eyes for you. Be mine. I’m yours.
These are just some of the messages that are apropos to Valentine’s Day, which is celebrated annually each February. So is Heart Month. To go along with the loving messages and sentiments (not to mention the cards, candy and flowers), we’ve compiled a list of ways to keep your heart healthy so that these matters of the – ahem, heart – can continue throughout a long, healthy life.
Stop smoking. In addition to causing a variety of major health issues, smoking is also hard on the heart. It increases one’s risk of heart diseases and atherosclerosis, lowers “good” cholesterol and causes premature death. Smoking more than doubles your risk of a heart attack and is an extremely expensive habit. (Think about all the heart-healthy dark chocolate you can buy with money saved!) Get tips and advice on how to quit smoking at www.smokefree.gov, a partner of the US National Institutes of Health that “provides free, accurate, evidence-based information and professional assistance to help support the immediate and long-term needs of people trying to quit smoking.
Eat a heart-healthy diet. A diet rich in low-calorie fruits, vegetables and high in fiber will help to stave off cravings by filling you up, lowering your cholesterol and helping to prevent cardiovascular disease. We covered this topic in a previous blog post, where you can find recommendations for a variety of heart-heathy foods.
Get moving. High blood pressure is just one risk factor for heart disease. Exercise can lower your blood pressure, thereby reducing your risk for heart disease. If you’re not sure how to get started with an exercise regimen, start off by walking for half an hour daily.
“A sedentary lifestyle, where your job and your leisure activities involve little or no physical activity, doubles your risk of dying from heart disease. This is similar to the increased risk you'd have if you smoked, had high cholesterol, or had high blood pressure,” according to Kaiser Permanente. If you already have a heart condition but wish to begin an exercise program, consult your physician.
Say “so long” to sodium. There are a few reasons why you should heed this advice. First, salt elevates blood pressure, increasing one’s risk for heart disease and stroke. Second, according to a recent article in Newsweek, salt is “also bad for your brain.” According to the article, “too much salt could make changes in the gut that impact cognitive function.”
We get most of our salt from processed foods like chips, canned or heat-and-serve soup, cold cuts and pizza. By cutting these foods out of your diet – or significantly decreasing the frequency with which you eat them – you’re doing yourself a favor. To find out more about sodium, how much you need, what foods you should limit and more, take a look at the American Heart Association’s “Why Should I Limit Sodium?”
Hydrate with H2O. Drinking water, regardless of the reason or the season, is imperative to maintain good heart health, because water helps your heart do what it needs to: pump about 2,000 gallons of blood every day. Without proper hydration, your heart will work harder, overcompensating to increase your heart rate. Being hydrated also benefits your brain, helps your mood and is a great way to help maintain a healthy body weight. Learn more about how dehydration can be dangerous on Livestrong.com.
If you’re not a fan of water, add a slice of cucumber or fresh fruit to add a little flavor. If you’re still not convinced, hydration can also come from fruits and vegetables that contain mostly water. The Cleveland Clinic says that cucumbers, celery, iceberg lettuce, zucchini, watermelon and strawberries are best.
Maintain a healthy weight. People who are overweight are at a greater risk for cardiovascular disease, a condition that accounts for about a third of deaths in the United States, according to the American College of Cardiology. Carrying extra weight strains the heart, increases blood pressure and bad cholesterol and also increases your risk for diabetes. An effective tool to find out whether you might be overweight is the Body Mass Index (BMI), which measures body fat based on height and weight. Click here to calculate your BMI and for more information about how to maintain a healthy weight.
To commemorate Heart Month while celebrating Valentine’s Day, enjoy some heart-heathy dark chocolate and a glass of heart-healthy red wine. Then, vow to take some additional steps to reduce your risk for a variety of conditions that can be detrimental to your health.