February is heart month. And with matters of the heart many images come to mind: love, Valentine’s Day, Cupid, and of course candy. But what about our health? Just as newlyweds have the goal of every day being Valentine’s Day, how many of us have our heart HEALTH on the forefront of our minds the other eleven months of the year?
Certain factors that directly affect our HEART health also affect our overall health.
- Smoking reduces blood circulation and narrows blood vessels, depriving the body of oxygen and increasing the risk for heart disease. Non-smokers who are exposed to secondhand smoke are 25 percent more likely to develop heart disease. People who smoke a pack of cigarettes a day have more than twice the risk of heart attack than nonsmokers.
- STRESS / High Blood Pressure / Cholesterol: These three are together because researchers have found that stress and anxiety are linked to higher LDL cholesterol and hypertension, possibly due to the way we cope with stress: skipping workouts and gobbling comfort foods that are high in saturated fat, both of which contribute to high blood pressure and cholesterol.
- Excess body fat can lead to conditions that increase your chances of heart disease — high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes. Even a small weight loss can be beneficial. Reducing your weight by just ten percent can decrease blood pressure, lower cholesterol level and reduce your risk of diabetes.
Here’s just a few ways to attain your healthiest heart possible.
LOVE – Of course we think of our spouses, families, and even our pets … but random acts of kindness and volunteering can spark heart healthy feelings of satisfaction, gratitude and self worth. Research shows that people who volunteer have lower rates of heart disease, live longer, and are overall more physically and mentally fit.
LAUGH – Laughter relaxes blood vessels and increases blood flow — the exact opposite of what your blood vessels do when you are stressed. Surround yourself with people who encourage you, lift your spirits and make you laugh. Also, be proactive in reducing stress – go to the movies, take up a new hobby, work out, or just relax in a bubble bath with a good book. Try to do something every day for at least fifteen minutes that makes you relax.
EAT – Not the heart-shaped candies, but a healthy diet consisting of fruits, veggies, lean proteins, healthy fats, fiber. Limit or eliminate fried foods, packaged snack foods (chips, crackers…), sugar, and salt.
WORK – Aim for physical work that keeps you in your target heart rate zone for 30-60 minutes on most days. Activities like running, biking, and skiing engage your cardio/respiratory systems by increasing your heart rate thus making your heart stronger. Your heart is the most important muscle of the body and needs to be trained as effectively as all the others. We tend to focus our efforts on building stronger and more toned legs, chest, arms and the all-time favorite – abdominals. However, without proper cardio training, our efforts to get stronger, lose weight, and look better will plateau quickly. Your heart must be able to stand the load anaerobic activities such as weight and strength training put on it. Otherwise your results and overall health will be limited.
Take the month of February to evaluate your personal heart health so you can make the necessary changes all year to help you achieve a healthy heart because matters of the heart really do matter.