February is American Heart Month. Makes sense, right? After all, we see pictures of hearts everywhere – but mostly due to Valentine’s Day. We always think of our hearts as the place where our emotions live, but they’re so much more than that. They’re also the workhorses of the body. Did you know that your heart pumps around 2,000 gallons of blood through your body each day? In this month that celebrates love, let’s show our hearts a little love.
Did you know that heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women in the United States?
According to healthy people.gov (2) “currently more than 1 in 3 adults (85.6 million) live with 1 or more types of cardiovascular disease.” In addition to being the first and fifth leading causes of death, “heart disease and stroke result in serious illness and disability” and “decreased quality of life….” That’s pretty scary, isn’t it? It’s especially distressing because so many of the risk factors for cardiovascular disease are things we’re doing to ourselves.
Things That May Increase Our Risk Of Heart Disease
There are some things that we know are risk factors for heart disease. Some of them are:
- High blood pressure
- High cholesterol
- Being overweight or obese
- Not getting enough physical activity
- Not eating a healthy diet
- Untreated health conditions, such as diabetes
That’s the bad news. Now for the good news: Heart disease can often be prevented by making healthy lifestyle choices and managing health conditions. Let’s take a look at a few things that may help us reduce our risk.
11 Ways We Can Show Our Hearts Some Love
1. Know your numbers.
We’ve probably all heard the saying that what we don’t know can’t hurt us. While that may be true in some cases, it certainly is not in this one. It’s important to know our blood pressure, cholesterol, and glucose numbers, as each of these can contribute to heart health or heart disease.
2. Manage blood pressure.
Keeping our blood pressure within normal ranges can reduce strain on our circulatory system. This helps reduce one of the major risk factors.
3. Keep cholesterol within healthy ranges.
We need to work with our medical team to make sure not only our total cholesterol, but our LDL and HDL cholesterol, as well as our triglycerides are at the desired level.
4. Keep blood sugar under control.
Chronic, high levels of glucose in the blood can damage our hearts, kidneys, and other organs.
5. Eat healthfully.
Diet plays a huge role in our overall health, and eating a heart-healthy diet can help us feel our best and reduce our risk of heart disease. A heart-healthy diet includes lots of colorful vegetables and fruits, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats.
6. Get (or stay) active.
The recommended level of activity is currently 150 minutes of moderate activity per week, but if you’re not there, don’t stress about it. As we talked about in Is Sitting the New Smoking, something is better than nothing. Every little bit of movement helps. Just start where you are and build up slowly.
7. Stay at a healthy weight.
Maintaining a healthy weight helps us reduce stress on our heart and other organs, as well as our musculoskeletal system. You can work with your doctor to determine what a healthy weight is for you.
8. Reduce (or manage) stress.
Let’s face it – stress puts a strain not just on our mental health, but can increase inflammation in the body, which can begin to affect our hearts. For some tips to help manage stress, check out 10 Ways to Manage Stress.
9. Don’t smoke, and avoid second-hand smoke.
Smoking can greatly increase our risk of developing cardiovascular disease, and even if we’re not smoking ourselves, breathing in someone else’s smoke can do the same damage.
10. If you drink alcohol, drink in moderation.
Although some studies have shown that red wine can be beneficial for heart health, studies have also shown that too much alcohol can damage our hearts and other organs. “Moderate” alcohol consumption is defined as no more than 1 drink per day for women and no more than 2 drinks per day for men.
11. Make sleep a priority.
New research has shown just how important sleep is to our heart health, and many of us just don’t get enough of it. We can’t always control how much, or the quality of the sleep we do get, but having a good nightly routine that prioritizes sleep can certainly help.
These are some of the simplest ways to take care of our hearts. We’ll take a closer look at some of these a little more in-depth over the next few weeks.
In the meantime, if you’d like more information, the American Heart Association has a wonderful resource to help us take small steps toward heart health. Check out their healthy living resources here: https://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living
During this “month of love” and throughout the year, let’s show our hearts some love. One way we can do that is to make a commitment to be more intentional about our heart health, and do things that help us strengthen our hearts and weaken our risks.
Is heart health something you think about? Do you know your numbers? What are some of the ways you care for your heart? Please share!
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(1) Healthy People, Heart Disease and Stroke, https://www.healthypeople.gov/2020/topics-objectives/topic/heart-disease-and-stroke?_ga=2.126190283.798716364.1581523326-2106917355.1581523326 (Now archived)
(2) American Heart Association, Healthy Living, https://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living