February Is American Heart Month: Tips For A Healthy Heart

February is here, a fact that is easy to see from all the hearts displayed in stores and malls . A fact not as well promoted, though, is this: February is American Heart Month. So, as a gift to hearts everywhere, here is a list of the best 10 tips to a healthy heart. Hint: Listed in no particular order, it is possible to practice several tips simultaneously on the way to a healthier ticker.

  • Stop smoking. This health advice is probably near the top of any medical provider’s  list. Smoking is the primary cause of heart disease, and that includes second-hand smoke. A year after smoking stops, the risk of having a heart attack drops to half that of a smoker. That’s a pretty good reason to quit.
  • Get moving. The recommended amount of daily exercise is 150 minutes of moderate exercise each week, such as biking, swimming, power walking, and dancing. It appears that less than half of Americans get the recommended amount of exercise each week. So, come on, just do it. Briskly exercising 5 days a week for only 30 minutes each day will meet the weekly requirement. Play basketball. Hit a golf ball. Swat a tennis ball. Walking the dog and doing housework also count toward keeping your body moving. So, don’t just sit there. Get up and shake a tail feather.
  • Eat nutritious meals. Eating healthier means getting 30 grams of protein every meal and having plenty of fiber each day from vegetables. A healthier diet helps people lose weight which is good news for any heart. According to cardiologists, carrying extra weight around the mid-section especially increases the risk of high blood pressure, a key risk factor for heart disease.
  • Watch your cholesterol. First, everyone should know their cholesterol number. High cholesterol is a heart disease risk. Second, eating healthier and exercising can help you get your triglyceride levels down and HDL (the “good” cholesterol”) levels up which will protect you from heart disease. .
  • Brush/floss daily and enthusiastically. It may not seem like a risk that most people associate with heart disease but people with periodontal disease share the same risk factors as heart disease. 
  • Sleep well and awake refreshed. Humans need at least seven hours of sleep; otherwise, health problems happen when we don’t get enough restorative rest. Some of the most serious effects of not getting enough sleep include a higher risk for high blood pressure, diabetes, heart attack and strokes.
  • Laughter is the best medicine. Maybe it’s not the best medicine, however, the American Heart Association says that laughter helps reduce the body’s stress hormones, raises good blood cholesterol, and decreases arterial inflammation which can lead to fat build-up in the arteries (called atherosclerosis). That’s pretty good work in anybody’s book.
  • Have that glass of wine with dinner. While most health advice includes a warning to reduce alcohol consumption, there is one alcoholic beverage that appears to have heart benefits. According to the Mayo Clinic, red wine contains antioxidants that help prevent coronary artery disease, one cause of heart attacks. Of course, doctors stress that alcohol consumption means moderate consumption. Intemperate alcohol consumption can lead to additional health problems and cancel any good effects of red wine.
  • That’s just nuts! Several varieties of nuts are heart-healthy. Tree nuts, such as almonds, pecans, and walnuts pack a diet with healthy fats, fiber, and protein. Great as a snack, they are also yummy on greek yogurt. For a bonus, nuts can help prevent cardiovascular disease. Just don’t overdo it. Nuts are high in calories so if trying to lose weight, keep the servings small – but enjoy the added crunch.
  • Keep your spirits up! Depression is pervasive in American society. Unfortunately, depression affects more than just the mental state. Clinical depression also affects the heart. Depression leads to increased stress hormones in the blood, along with higher levels of cortisol, and higher glucose levels. So heart health means watching that stress levels do not become chronic. It means keeping a positive mental outlook even when you have health issues. Watch stress levels as closely as personal cholesterol levels and high blood pressure. Feeling down often leads to poor diet choices, such as overindulging in high-calorie comfort foods, and lying in bed all day instead of exercising. Therefore, keeping a close watch on the mental state can help the heart stay healthy.
  • Enjoy the game. Having fun and relaxing is the definition of reducing stress levels. People who enjoy knitting, crocheting, rug hooking, sewing, drawing or painting have the added benefit of producing something tangible with the effort expended. Whether it’s solving puzzles, playing Sudoku, cooking up a gourmet meal, watching movies, playing video games, or playing cards, just enjoy the playtime. (Hearts everywhere nod in agreement).
  • Make it dark. Chocolate, that is. One study found that eating dark chocolate two or three times each week decreases the risks of arterial plaque build-up by 32%. Dark chocolate has no added milk solids like milk chocolate (hence, the name). Dark chocolate is made from cacao beans, sugar, soy lecithin, and flavorings. If the dark chocolate has no sugar, it tastes bitter. Bakers use bitter dark chocolate in cakes.  Slightly sweet dark chocolate tastes good by itself and is:
    • high in fiber,
    • a good source of antioxidants,
    • helpful in making arteries relax,
    • helpful in raising HDL (good cholesterol);
    • and protects LDL (bad cholesterol) from associating with free radicals in the body which can cause damage to the arteries.
  • See the doctor regularly. Patients without heart disease should see their primary care provider at least once a year. Patients with heart disease should visit the cardiologist as often as he/she prescribes. Don’t skip appointments or cardiac tests. Don’t be afraid to ask questions about things happening in the body. Take medicines as prescribed. Remember, patients with heart disease can lead normal lives if they adopt a healthy lifestyle, take medicines as prescribed, and keep an upbeat mental attitude.