February is American Heart Month, so at the same time we’re giving away paper-heart Valentines and celebrating love, we’re also encouraged to pay attention to one of our body’s most important organs. And that’s a lovely reminder because the way most Americans live their lives doesn’t help it function its best. There’s good news, though. Simple lifestyle changes can make a big difference in not only heart health but overall health.
Diet is crucial.
One of the cornerstones of good heart health is what you eat. Relying on packaged and processed foods as the bulk of your diet can devastate your health. That’s why it’s important to make sure that most of the groceries you purchase are from the fresh foods section. Think fruits, veggies, lean meats, whole grains, legumes, and nuts. Keep dairy and salty or preserved meats to a minimum. Sugar should be an occasional treat, not an everyday item. Replace sugary beverages like soda and juice with water or sparkling water. Healthy fats such as olive oil should also be a mainstay of any heart-healthy routine.
Walk it out.
Getting enough physical activity is also important. Aim for at least 2.5 hours per week of exercise. Something as simple as a brisk walk with the dog is a great way to get a daily dose of blood-pumping goodness. Swimming is also a great activity for heart health and is easy on the joints. Choose a few routines that you enjoy and stick to them, rotating them to keep things interesting. Not only does increasing your heart rate keep your cardiovascular system functioning at its best, but it also helps you maintain a healthy weight for your body, another must for heart health.
Tackle your stressors.
Maintaining a healthy heart requires you to consider the daily stress you feel. Keeping stress down may sound like an impossible task during a global pandemic, but it’s an effort that could pay off in the long run. When humans feel distressed, we tend to reach for something that can “fix” it—too often it’s alcohol, tobacco, other drugs, or too much food. But merely distracting ourselves from looking inward won’t heal us. Instead, make the time to dive into your emotions either through mindfulness exercises or counseling. You’ll soon watch your overall stress levels melt away. This is especially prudent now, when so many are feeling the weight of the effects of COVID-19 on our families and communities.
Make it routine.
Making sure you get regular check-ups is another way to help your ticker. Schedule routine physicals to help your doctor recognize negative patterns before they become severe. At the very least, screening for high blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugar are a yearly must, especially if your family has a history of heart disease or diabetes.
If all these changes feel like too much to conquer at the same time, choose one. Taking that first small step toward better health will make a big difference, and then you can move on to the next. So what will you do? Maybe you’ll start by walking the dog every morning or eating healthy dinners three times a week. Love yourself this Valentine’s Day by taking the steps necessary to change your heart health and your life!