Show your Heart some Love!
Updated: Feb 1
February is known as the month of love for those that celebrate Valentine’s Day; however, February is also American Heart Month, a time when everyone can focus on their cardiovascular health. Heart disease isn’t just a risk for the older generation, everyone, including children, should focus on a heart healthy lifestyle. Read on for Heart Health Self-care Tips to Show your Heart some Love this February (and beyond)!
Tip #1: Know your Heart Risks
Understanding your risk of heart disease is the first step toward having a healthy heart. Risk factors include age (over 55 for women and 45 for men), sedentary lifestyle, unhealthy eating habits, family history of heart disease, smoking, being overweight, or having high blood pressure, high cholesterol, or diabetes. Talk to your doctor about your risks and get your blood pressure and cholesterol checked regularly. If you have any of the above-mentioned risk factors, early intervention is key. Read on for diet and lifestyle changes that can support a healthy heart.
Tip #2: Eat a Heart Healthy Diet
If you know anything about me, you know that I don’t believe in diets. Instead I believe in healthy balanced approaches to eating. Both the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) and Mediterranean Diet eating plans are highly rated, especially for a healthy heart. These dietary approaches focus on eating plenty of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains; eating lean and plant-based proteins: fish, poultry, beans; prioritizing healthy fats such as olive oil, nuts, and salmon; and limiting saturated fat, sodium, and added sugar.
Consuming healthy fats, such as olive oil, nuts, and seeds, containing monounsaturated fat can lower LDL (or bad) cholesterol. Fatty fish, such as salmon, is rich in Omega-3 fatty acids which help fight inflammation, reduce blood clotting, decrease triglycerides, and reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke.
Reducing your overall sodium intake is an important piece of a heart healthy diet. In general, it is recommended that adults consume less than 2,300 mg of sodium daily; however, limiting sodium to 1,500 mg/day is shown to lower blood pressure even further. Eating more fresh fruits and vegetables, reading labels, and limiting processed foods are some easy steps you can take to reduce your daily sodium intake.
Eating a high-fiber diet can help reduce cholesterol, blood pressure, and inflammation. Specifically soluble fiber found in foods like oats, flaxseed, and beans may lower LDL cholesterol. It is recommended that women get 21 to 25 grams of fiber/day, while men need 30 to 38 grams daily. Good sources of fiber include whole grains, fruits, vegetables, beans, legumes, nuts, and seeds.
Tip #3: Stress less for a Healthier Heart
Stress is inevitable; and while acute stress can be helpful (think about the mental sharpness it gives you before a big presentation), chronic or long-term stress can be detrimental to your mental and physical health, including your heart. According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, stress can make you more likely to get heart disease and have a heart attack.
Think you are too young to worry about heart problems? Think again. The origins of heart disease begin at a young age, therefore it is important to learn stress management techniques as early as possible to protect your heart. The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute recommends finding ways to trigger your body’s relaxation response. This process slows your breathing and decreases your blood pressure and heart rate. A few relaxation techniques you can try include:
Progressive muscle relaxation by tightening individual muscles in your body and then releasing the tension, working up your body from your toes to your face.
Meditation, including guided or on your own. Most meditation styles involve being in a quiet location with minimal distractions; can be done sitting, lying, or walking; often focus your attention on a specific word, phrase, object, or your breath; and should be done with an open, non-judgmental attitude. Some helpful meditation apps to get you started include: Calm, Headspace, and InsightTimer.
Yoga helps lower stress by encouraging both physical and mental relaxation. Physical benefits include promoting flexibility, alleviating pain, and relieving tension, while mental benefits include the release of mood-boosting endorphins to positively affect how you deal with stress, boosts in concentration, and enhanced awareness.
Tip #4: Move your Body to Strengthen your Heart
Being physically active is one of the best ways to keep your heart healthy. Even modest amounts of physical activity are good for your health and the more active you are, the more you will benefit. Adults should aim for at least 150 minutes of aerobic physical activity each week, as well as do muscle strengthening exercises at least 2 days a week. If it’s hard to fit 30+ minutes of exercise into your schedule at one time, try chunking up your physical activity into 5-, 10-, or 15-minute sessions throughout the day. Any physical activity is better than none. Being physically active can:
Protect your heart (even if you have heart disease)
Improve blood flow
Lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels
Help you be more resilient to stress
Did you know that if you are inactive, you are nearly twice as likely to develop heart disease? Physical activity is recommended for everyone from age 3 and up, so get the whole family involved!
As someone with chronic kidney issues, I’m at increased risk for heart problems. As a result, I prioritize preventative and routine healthcare, a healthy diet, stress management, and physical activity. One of my primary intentions for 2023 is to motivate my community to move more! Therefore, I’m launching my “Move with Me in 2023” initiative this month beginning with a physical activity challenge. As a community we are going to work together to see how quickly we can log 2,023 minutes of movement! If you are interested in participating, join the Move with Me in 2023 Facebook Group today. The intention is to move more this year, so we won’t stop at 2,023 minutes (that’s just the first milestone). There will be resources, workouts, and prizes along the way. Check out the Facebook Group for more information.
Show your Heart some Love this month by talking to your doctor, eating a heart healthy diet, stressing less, and moving more. Until next time…Eat Well. Live Well. Be Well.