We see a lot of hearts in February with Valentine’s Day on the 14th, but in the midst of going out to dinner and eating chocolates, many of us forget that February is also American Heart Month. Unfortunately in the United States, cardiovascular disease is the number one leading cause of death and one of the top causes of disability. According to some estimates, cardiovascular disease costs the United States over $300 billion due to health care costs, medications, and lost productivity.
Although those facts may seem a bit depressing in a month where we spend so much time celebrating love and relationships, the uplifting news is that cardiovascular disease is often preventable, and anyone can reduce their risk of cardiovascular disease by making a few lifestyle changes! Below we’ve outlined some of the basic ways to keep your heart healthy. Remember, you can start making positive life changes at any time in your life – why not start today?
Many simple changes in your day-to-day diet can help you get started on the road to a healthier heart. It can feel overwhelming to try and change everything about your diet at once; it can even feel overwhelming to figure out what the right diet is even supposed to be! Instead of wasting time worrying, try taking the following well-researched, heart-healthy nutrition tips and implementing changes one at a time:
- Limit your salt intake – avoid salty foods and don’t add more salt to foods
- Avoid trans fats – take a look at nutrition labels and don’t eat foods containing partially hydrogenated vegetable oils
- Eat more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and fiber
- Eat more fish – try to eat fish at least twice a week
- Cut fatty foods out of your diet – avoid foods that are high in saturated fat, trans fat, and cholesterol; only about 30% of your daily calorie intake should come from fat.
All of these things will help you lose weight, feel more energized, and get the nutrition you need to be healthy and keep your heart healthy.
The word “exercise” often brings up visions of sprinting, biking, and being generally uncomfortable. But what many people don’t realize is that you don’t have to hit the gym for hours every day or run a marathon every weekend to get healthy amounts of exercise in. The simple truth is that all you really need to do to maintain a heart-healthy lifestyle is get 30 minutes of moderate physical activity in five or more days per week. Even better – you don’t have to do it all at once. For example, you could go out for a quick, 15-minute, brisk walk in the morning and then head out for a mere 15 minutes again when you get home from work and you’d have enough activity in to reap substantial health benefits. Obviously, more is better, but you’d be surprised how much exercise you can get in throughout the course of the day if you just make small adjustments to your routine. Here are some simple ways to add a little activity to your day:
- Park farther away in parking lots to get a few extra steps in when you’re shopping or heading into or out of the office.
- Do some yard work – rake leaves, do some landscaping, start a garden, or mow the lawn (riding doesn’t count).
- Walk around while talking on the phone instead of sitting.
- If you’ve got a pet, take them out for a walk instead of just letting them go outside.
- Find fun ways to incorporate more active and physical events into your social life – instead of (or before) going to see a movie, walk around the mall for a while. Better yet, make a regular date to play your favorite sport or participate in your favorite physical activity with a friend.
Other Risk Factors
Most of us already know that we should probably improve our diet and exercise, but many people are unaware of the other risk factors that can increase your risk for cardiovascular disease. Get to know these other risk factors to help improve your heart health.
- Smoking – smoking is one of the most dangerous things you can do. If you can cut back, every single cigarette counts, so try just smoking one less cigarette a day. Then keep cutting back. Quitting smoking is a fast and effective way to improve your heart (and overall!) health.
- Emotional factors – Many people don’t realize that anxiety, anger, depression, and isolation are all associated with heart disease. If you, your friends, or your loved ones notice that you have been down, moody, or isolated, maybe it’s time to seek some help.
- Family history – if a close relative has had a heart attack or died of heart disease, you may be at greater risk. But you can still be proactive to reduce your risk of developing cardiovascular disease by getting yourself checked out and consulting with a health care professional about your family history. Maybe you’ll discover that you have high cholesterol and that it can be managed with medication.
Just because heart disease runs in your family doesn’t mean you’ll get it, though – we also inherit a lot of habits from our relatives, and no matter what your genetics are, you can follow the tips provided above to reduce your risk of heart disease. If you would like to speak to a medical professional about your cardiovascular health, consider Meritage Medical Network. You can use the convenient “find a doctor” feature on our homepage to find a health care professional or specialist near you.