February is the perfect time to focus on heart health, as it is American Heart Month. This is a time when we can reflect on the importance of maintaining a healthy heart and take the necessary steps towards achieving this health goal.
If you’re curious about making some healthy changes and showing some love to your heart, you’re in the right place. Here are a few tips to get you started.
Tips for Improving Your Cardiovascular Health
Physical activity is crucial for a healthy heart. Experts recommend at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity per week, such as brisk walking or cycling, or 75 minutes of vigorous activity, such as running or playing sports. This can also extend your life expectancy and decrease your risk of heart disease.
Simple Steps to Increase Activity:
- Take the Stairs: Opt for the stairs instead of the elevator whenever possible. This is an easy way to incorporate more physical activity into your day.
- Walk More: Try to include more walking in your daily routine. You can walk to the grocery store, park further away from your destination or take a stroll during your lunch break.
- Stand Up: If you have a desk job, try standing up and moving around every hour. You could even consider a standing desk.
Eating a balanced diet is another essential factor for heart health. Incorporate whole grains, lean proteins, fruits and vegetables into your daily meals. Limiting saturated fat, sodium and added sugars can notably reduce your risk of heart disease.
- Plan Your Meals: Planning meals ahead of time can help ensure a balanced diet. It also reduces the likelihood of resorting to unhealthy convenience foods when time is limited.
- Cook at Home: Preparing your meals at home gives you complete control over the ingredients used, allowing you to make healthier choices.
- Drink Plenty of Water: Staying hydrated is essential for overall health. Replace sugary drinks with water as much as possible.
- Eat More Fruits and Vegetables: These are high in vitamins, minerals and fiber, but low in calories. Strive to fill half your plate with fruits and vegetables at each meal.
- Portion Control: Be mindful of portion sizes to avoid overeating. Using smaller plates can help with this.
- Eat Whole Grains: Whole grains are a good source of fiber and keep you feeling full, which can help control weight.
- Limit Processed Foods: Processed foods often contain high levels of sodium, sugar, and unhealthy fats. Opt for fresh, whole foods whenever possible.
- Choose Lean Proteins: Lean proteins like poultry, fish and legumes are healthier options than red and processed meats.
- Healthy Snacking: Choose nuts, fruits, or yogurt for snacks instead of chips or candy. These healthier options can help maintain steady blood sugar levels and keep hunger in check.
Maintain a Healthy Weight
A healthy weight reduces your risk of heart disease and other health problems. It’s not just about dieting, but adopting a healthier lifestyle. Regular exercise and good nutrition can help you achieve and maintain a healthy weight.
If you smoke, quit. It’s simple but vital. Smoking can damage your heart and blood vessels, increasing the risk of heart disease. If you’re struggling to quit, consider seeking support from healthcare professionals or a support group.
Excessive alcohol can raise your blood pressure and add extra calories, which may cause weight gain, both of which are harmful to your heart. If you drink, do so in moderation.
Monitor Blood Pressure
High blood pressure often has no symptoms, but it can cause serious damage to your heart. For most adults, the healthy blood pressure range is less than 120/80 mm Hg. If your blood pressure is consistently above this range, you may be at risk for hypertension or other health issues. Here are general blood pressure categories defined by the American Heart Association:
- Normal: Systolic less than 120 mm Hg; Diastolic less than 80 mm Hg
- Elevated: Systolic 120-129 mm Hg; Diastolic less than 80 mm Hg
- High Blood Pressure (Hypertension) Stage 1: Systolic 130-139 mm Hg or Diastolic 80-89 mm Hg
- High Blood Pressure (Hypertension) Stage 2: Systolic 140 mm Hg or higher; Diastolic 90 mm Hg or higher
- Hypertensive Crisis: Systolic higher than 180 mm Hg and/or Diastolic higher than 120 mm Hg
Once you know your numbers, you can create a plan with your healthcare provider to achieve or maintain a healthy blood pressure level. This plan might include dietary changes, regular exercise, medication or other interventions. Remember, regular monitoring of your blood pressure at home and during medical appointments is crucial for maintaining heart health.
Chronic stress may harm your heart. Finding healthy ways to manage stress, such as meditation, yoga, or simply taking time for yourself can help protect your heart.
So, this American Heart Month, let’s pledge to make heart-healthy decisions. Remember, every small step matters. It’s never too late to start taking care of your heart, and there’s no better time to start than now. Show your heart some love and it will surely love you back!