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February, the month of love, is also American Heart Month. For 57 years, the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute and the American Heart Association have worked to raise awareness about heart health during this month. And for good reason. Heart disease is the number one cause of death in the US.
The focus this month is on preventing heart disease by adopting a heart healthy lifestyle. Did you know that there are many steps we can take, to protect our hearts and prevent coronary disease? The ultimate form of self care involves creating better health and wellness in our lives and being an example to others so that they can do the same.
Check out these heart health tips and take charge of your wellbeing.
Lose the Belly Fat
Research links excess belly fat to higher risks for heart disease. That extra weight around the middle raises blood pressure and creates unhealthy blood lipids. Targeting belly fat loss is a two step process. Eat a better diet, with more fruits and vegetables, and exercise for at least 15 minutes daily.
Use a smaller plate for meals and fill most of that plate with wholesome, plant based foods. Focus on including leafy greens, berries, brown rice, oats, quinoa, avocados, beans, walnuts and tomatoes.
Add Fiber to Diet
In addition to more fresh produce and wholesome grains, include more fiber in meals. A diet rich in soluble fiber helps lower bad cholesterol and boosts heart heath. Add beans, apples, pears, nuts, oats and avocados to daily meals and snacks. Create a meatless red beans and rice dish. Add avocados to a leafy green salad full of chopped veggies. Top a bowl of oatmeal with diced apples or pears. And a small handful of nuts, such as almonds or walnuts, make a great mid-afternoon snack.
Pets not only offer companionship and unconditional love, they provide many health benefits. One of those benefits is better heart and lung health. Walking or playing with pets improves cardio health. And just having a pet and loving it lowers stress and blood pressure and decreases cholesterol and triglyceride levels. Studies shows that pet owners even tend to live longer. If you are looking for a new pet, I suggest contacting your local pet shelter or rescue and adopting from there.
One of the best ways to protect the heart and prevent disease is to stop smoking. Or, never start the habit! Cigarettes contain ingredients that, when they burn, generate poisonous chemicals. At least 60 of those are linked to cancer.
Smoking damages the lungs and the entire cardiovascular system. Blood vessels tighten and restrict blood flow. It also raises blood pressure, weakens vessel walls and increases the risk of blood clots, which contribute to strokes. And smoking endangers those around you. Second hand smoke carries the same risks for non-smokers as it does for smokers.
Don’t Have Idle Hands
Engaging in activities that keep the hands busy helps the mind to relax and unwind. And lowering stress is good for the heart. Try knitting, coloring or making crafts. Work a jigsaw puzzle, cook or bake, or try woodworking. Gardening is one of my favorite ways to ease my mind while keeping my hands busy. Even sorting and folding clothes while watching television soothes the mind…as long as the television show itself doesn’t create stress!
Reduce Salt Intake
Reducing salt intake to half a teaspoon a day significantly lowers the risk of heart disease. Eat more fresh fruits and vegetables and less processed foods, which are high in sodium. The body requires a small amount of salt, however too much contributes to high blood pressure, which is linked to heart disease, heart attacks, strokes and kidney disease.
One way to control the amount of salt in meals is to cook at home. And try a salt substitute, such as Mrs. Dash, if you already have high blood pressure.
Enjoy a Glass of Red Wine
Enjoying an occasional glass of red wine helps raise good cholesterol. Wine also helps prevent blood clots and artery damage. And it contains antioxidants that fight inflammation, promote longevity and protect against heart disease. Just don’t overdo it. Drinking in moderation is key.
For those who don’t enjoy a glass of wine, try a cup of hot green tea instead. It is very beneficial to heart health as well. Green tea is linked to lower risks of angina and heart attacks.
Eat Dark Chocolate
With that glass of wine, or cup of green tea, savor a piece of rich, dark chocolate. Dark chocolate contains heart healthy flavonoids that help reduce inflammation and lower the risk of heart disease. Like wine, enjoy dark chocolate in moderation and avoid the sweeter milk chocolate all together.
Laugh Out Loud
Surprisingly, laughter has many benefits, including heart health. Robust laughter lowers stress hormones, decreases inflammation in blood vessels and arteries and raises good cholesterol. Laughter is good medicine, indeed! Bring more of it into your life by watching funny movies, reading joke books and spending time with the children in your family. Kids are naturally funny. Watch comedians online or attend a comedy show. Giggle over those cute animal videos on YouTube. And smile, signaling to your body that you are ready for a good laugh.
Don’t Sit Too Long
A sedentary lifestyle, where one sits for long periods of time, is detrimental to overall wellbeing and especially to heart health. In fact, researchers warn that sitting too much, for too long, shortens life.
Take frequent breaks, if you must sit for hours during the day. Every 60 minutes, get up, stretch and move around for a couple of minutes. Use lunch breaks to eat a healthy lunch and then walk for the time remaining.
So many are working at home currently. It’s just as important to take breaks there as well. Walk to the kitchen and drink a glass of water. Take the dog out for a stroll around the backyard. Play with the kids. Hop on a stationary bike and pedal for 10 minutes. Break up the day with short bursts of activity.
Get Your Moves On
To counterbalance sitting for long periods of time and to boost heart health, move the body. After a day of sitting, even with those frequent short breaks, plan a longer time of activity in the evening. Or if you work at home, take longer breaks if possible and get at least 15 minutes of activity in before returning to the computer.
There are so many ways to incorporate more movement into the day, raising heart rate and increasing respiration. Take the stairs rather than an elevator. Park farther from the store and walk. Enjoy nature trails. Turn up the music while doing household chores and ramp up your movements. Play with the kids and really get into their games and activities. Take the dog for a walk through the neighborhood. And dance for your heart. Catch an online Zumba class or get your moves on in the privacy of your own home. Just move…every day.
Yoga, or stretching, improves flexibility, balance and core strength. It also boosts heart health by reducing stress and anxiety and relaxing the body. If yoga is new to you, find a YouTube channel with an instructor or buy a yoga DVD and mat from Amazon. Yoga is a beautiful way to begin the day and set the intention for greater health and wellness.
Healthy Heart Healthy Life
These tips don’t require a lot of effort or time yet they help to ensure a longer, healthier life. For the month of February, create a plan that incorporates practices that improve heart health and prevent coronary disease. Meal planning makes it easy to include heart healthy foods. And block out time during the day for moving the body.
A positive outlook on health and life is important too. Stress and anxiety are major contributors to heart disease. One of the best ways to be healthier is to make choices that contribute to wellbeing. When we feel better, and see positive results from our choices, we continue to do better. As a result, we more readily take the steps necessary to stay healthy. I hope these tips help you on your journey toward better health…and a better life.
Heart Healthy Finds from Amazon:
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I am not a medical practitioner. I study health and wellness related topics and share experiences from my own personal healing journey.