5 Things You Can Do This Month to Improve Heart Health
February is Heart Health Month, so what better way to celebrate than taking stock of what you can do today to keep your heart healthy?
According to the CDC, heart disease is the number one killer of both men and women in the United States, accounting for more than 1 in 4 deaths.
Those numbers sound scary, but the good news is that heart disease is largely preventable. Major risk factors include obesity, diabetes, physical inactivity, poor diet and excessive use of alcohol.
Whether you have these risk factors already or want to avoid getting them, we want to offer a few important ways to keep your heart healthy and strong. Here are 5 things you can do this month to improve heart health
Achieve a Healthy Weight
Statistics show that more than 2 in 3 adults living in the United States are overweight or obese. Losing weight is a lot easier said than done, but understanding how important maintaining a healthy weight is for your heart is some good motivation.
Losing weight is a lot easier said than done, but understanding how important maintaining a healthy weight is for your heart is some good motivation.
Keep in mind that a common measurement for obesity is BMI (body mass index), which is actually not the most accurate indicator of your risk for heart disease due to excess body fat (for example, the muscle/fat ratio is not taken into account, nor is body fat distribution).
To understand more, check out this article. However, if you have excess belly fat and are obese, this does put you at risk for heart disease. Exercise and a healthy diet are key.
It is well known that smoking greatly increases your risk of heart disease, not to mention cancer and lung problems. Cigarettes increase blood pressure, lower your ability to exercise, and put you at greater risk for blood clots. Unfortunately, many people in their fight to quit smoking turn to high sugar foods, which also plays a major role in heart disease. Getting your nutrition on track first might give your body the nutrient base it needs to have an easier time quitting, but this depends on the individual.
Unfortunately, many people in their fight to quit smoking turn to high sugar foods, which also plays a major role in heart disease.
Experts believe that quitting “cold turkey” is the most effective method, and in the long run has more success. Meeting with a smoking cessation professional or support group can be the best decision you’ve ever made for your heart.
Exercise is essential for heart health. Getting active decreases belly fat and chronic inflammation in the body, both major risk factors for heart disease. Remember, visceral fat (fat around the mid-section) affects thin and overweight people alike, so don’t make the mistake of thinking you don’t have to exercise just because you’re naturally skinny.
Shoot for at least 150 minutes per week of intentional exercise, and make sure your heart rate is raised. Depending on the person, this might start with simply walking for 20 minutes, or it could be hitting the gym. The point is to move your body.
We’ve got a whole section of our blog dedicated to working up a sweat. Check it out.
Eat a Heart Healthy Diet
There are a lot of myths about what a heart healthy diet entails. Are butter and saturated fats to blame? Should I eat a high or low carb diet?
Thankfully, a lot of these myths are being dispelled, and many studies have shown that saturated fats do not cause heart disease. The real culprits are foods high in refined sugar and carbs, such as candy, sodas, white bread and pasta, and other “junk” foods. Trans-fats (hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated fats) should also be avoided like the plague (on the flip side, be sure to get plenty of omega 3 fatty acids).
Heart Healthy Diet
A heart healthy diet includes at least half of your plate filled with veggies and fruits (but more veggies), protein in the form of high quality meat, chicken and fish (whole dairy and legumes if you are not a meat eater), heart-healthy fats like olive and coconut oil, avocado and even grass-fed butter or ghee, along with starches such as yams, winter squashes and occasional whole grains.
Replacing white sugar with honey or maple syrup is a great step towards heart health.
Manage Your Stress Levels
Last but certainly not least, do not underestimate the power of chronic stress on your health. An extremely stressful, day to day lifestyle along with unresolved anger, guilt, sadness or any other emotion that is bottled up can contribute to high blood pressure and obesity.
Finding what works for you to manage your stress is key, whether that be exercise, meditation, indulging in a heart-healthy tea or talking with a therapist.
The American Heart Association discusses stress’s effects on heart health and how to manage it here.
Celebrate Heart Health Month by treating yourself to a healthy dose of disease prevention. Might not be quite as exciting as chocolate and candy hearts, but your future is worth it; improve heart health today.
Rachel Fiske is a Holistic Nutrition Consultant and graduated from Bauman College of Holistic Nutrition in Berkeley, California. She is also a Certified Personal Trainer through the National Academy of Sports Medicine. Rachel focuses on issues of weight management, GI problems, hormonal imbalances, fatigue and more via a whole foods diet and lifestyle changes.