I love February for one reason.
Not because of Valentine’s Day and chocolate, although I love my fair share of the dark variety around the 14th of the month. No, I love February because it is Healthy Heart Month, which is a topic near and dear to my heart (no pun intended).
Like many of you, I have a family history of heart disease in my family. However, that unlucky genetic predisposition comes from both of my parents’ families. High cholesterol, diabetes, early heart attacks, congestive heart failure, stroke, high blood pressure and TIA have affected several members of my family and each one of my grandparents. So, my awareness of heart disease prevention began at an early age.
Although the genetic risk factor may increase my chance of CAD (coronary artery disease), it doesn’t necessarily mean I will develop it. Just like the opposite is true for the person who may have very few risk factors erroneously believing that they won’t ever have a heart attack. Regardless of your genetic history though, there are some behaviors we can all do that will reduce our chances of developing the number one cause of death, which is heart disease. (Yep, it beat out cancer!)
Visit any website related to heart disease and you’ll find a variety of lists related to behaviors and choices that can reduce your chances of developing heart disease. So, I’ve combine a few of them together to give you 5 lifestyle changes you can make to improve your overall heart health.
1. Develop healthy eating habits.
Choose fresh fruit and veggies, lean protein and reduce the amount of high-fat, nutritional empty foods. Not sure where to start? Check out www.choosemyplate.gov
2. Exercise daily.
You don’t have to be a fitness junky to earn the heart healthy benefits of exercise. The goal is to ‘move’ for at least 2 ½ hours each week. One way to do this is to break that time down to a 20 minute walk each day. Or maybe it’s time to begin that tennis class you’ve been thinking of doing. Whatever ‘it’ is, find the form of exercise you enjoy and do it.
3. Improve or maintain your overall weight.
Even a little bit of weight gain can have a big impact on your blood pressure and increase your risk for diabetes and high cholesterol. Review your exercise and eating habits to see if you need to make some modifications. Another way to analyze if you are at the proper weight is to have your healthcare provider check your BMI (Body Mass Index). More information can be found on the CDC website.
4. Stop smoking.
Such a bad habit that’s hard to break, but well worth it when you do stop. Why? Because smoking not only increases your risk for heart disease but other diseases such as cancer and chronic lung disease. For more information on ways to quit, check out SC DHEC’s website.
5. Reduce stress.
For some people, this may be the hardest lifestyle change to make due to work or family obligations. The goal is to find something (healthy) that helps you reduce stress and try to incorporate that activity into your day. Even if it just for 5 or 10 minutes. Go for a walk, read a book, listen to music, play with your kids, pray, or write in your journal. Whatever brings your stress level down, try to do MORE of it.
Here’s a bonus – one more thing you should do. Learn the signs and symptoms of a heart attack and stroke and know what to do if it happens to you or a loved one. For details on how to spot these conditions, check out the American Heart Association website.
You only have one heart, so start making healthy choices to strengthen that magnificent muscle. Besides, the healthier it is, the longer you get to use it to love others.