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5 Ways To Improve Your Heart Health This February

Your heart may be your body’s most amazing muscle, but it goes under-appreciated by many of us. Heart disease is the nation’s number one killer of both men and women, and this is unfortunate because it’s largely preventable.

Doctor tells patients about American Heart Month in February

February is American Heart Month and it’s a good time to revamp your heart health efforts. Without further ado, here are 5 things you can do to improve your heart health this February.

1) Get Moving

It probably comes as no surprise that exercise is essential for your heart health– both in and of itself and because it helps you manage your weight! Exercise comes in many forms and varieties, and can be incorporated into your routine regardless of your current fitness level.

It’s best to shoot for at least 150 minutes of physical activity per week, whether for you that means running, hitting the gym, or even just going for a walk. Lifting weight is a good way to expand your blood vessels, but don’t worry if you’re not yet pumping major iron. Starting out with some hardcover books or a two-pound weight is a great place to start.

Swimming is also an excellent way to reduce your risk of heart disease. In fact, Swiss scientists have established that burnt-out men can halve their risk of stress-induced heart attacks by swimming two times per week.

Even if you’re already skinny naturally or because of your diet choices, you should still make time for regular exercise. Fat around the midsection, or visceral fat, affects thin and overweight people alike. Being active decreases this belly fat and chronic inflammation in the body– both of which are risk factors for heart disease.

2) Quit Smoking

Most people associate smoking with cancer– and rightfully so. But cigarettes take a toll on more than just your lungs; in fact, they affect all your organs, including your heart and blood vessels.

Smoking cigarettes:

  • Increases blood pressure
  • Lowers your ability to exercise
  • Puts you at a greater risk for blood clots

If you’re a smoker, don’t stress too much just yet! (stress is also bad for your heart) The good news is that your health benefits begin the very day that you quit smoking. And within a few years of your last cigarette, your cardiovascular risks will actually be similar to those of a nonsmoker.

Woman says no to smoking for her heart month

One word to the wise, though: be careful about turning to sugar as you quit. Often it’s easy to replace one addiction with another (addiction transference) and many people turn to high sugar foods during their battle to quit. Sugar also plays a major role in heart disease, so be careful that you’re not swapping out one unhealthy habit for another.

3) Eat Better

Speaking of food, eating more healthily makes a major difference to heart as well as your waistline!

Nutrition can be a confusing topic overall. Should you eat a high or low-carb diet? Is it good to go vegetarian or raw or keto? Are butter and saturated fats to blame for our health issues? These are tons of questions and options and lifestyles when it comes to food.

It can easily become overwhelming…

Luckily, a lot of myths about fats are being dispelled. A few years ago, we were taught to think fat was the devil. “Low-fat” and “fat-free” are still huge buzz phrases when it comes to foods. And when it comes to trans fats (hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated) fats, they are indeed bad for you, and should be avoided at all cost. However, many studies have shown that saturated fats do not cause heart disease.

Here are some heart-healthy diet tips:

  • Fill half of your plate with fruits and veggies (but mostly veggies)
  • Replace white sugar with honey or maple syrup
  • Eat proteins like:
    • High quality meat
    • Chicken
    • Fish (cod is particularly good, as its proteins are special and drown out heart-damaging CRP according to the Journal of Nutrition)
  • Eat heart-healthy fats like:
    • Olive oil
    • Coconut oil
    • Nuts (which also have protein!)
    • Avocado
    • Grass-fed butter or ghee
  • Eat starches such as:
    • Yams
    • Winter squashes
    • The occasional whole grain toast or pasta
  • Eat a healthy breakfast, for example whole grain avocado toast with a side of fruit
  • Stop drinking sugar-laden sodas and overly sugary coffee beverages. Since you’re drinking instead of eating, you may not realize how many calories they add to your day!

Manage Stress Levels

As we mentioned earlier, stressing too much is bad for your heart! But much like losing weight and eating healthily, managing stress it is often easier said than done.

“In our busy lives, stress is almost like a badge of honor,” says Dr. Aditi Nerurkar, a Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center physician at who studies and treats stress. In fact, Dr. Nerurkar says that day-to-day stress is not only an established risk factor for heart disease, but also affects almost every single area of our health!

The following feelings can also contribute to high blood pressure and obesity:

  • Unresolved anger
  • Guilt
  • Sadness
  • Any other repressed negative emotion

Here are some ways to manage your stress and feelings:

  • Exercise
  • Drink some (heart-healthy!) tea
  • Give a hug
  • Meditate
  • Pray
  • Breathe deeply
  • Do a good deed
  • Counting your blessings
  • Do four two-minute tennis ball squeezes (A month of hand-grip training lowers BP by 10%!)

Don’t feel guilty if you’re stressed sometimes; that’s basically unavoidable. And guilt will only make things worse! It’s more about learning how to mentally let go of any stress as quickly and effectively as you can.

Get Quality Sleep

Sleep is amazing for your health. It gives your body a chance to heal and recharge, boosts your immune system, and helps your mood. It’s also great for your heart!

Woman gets more sleep for American Heart Month

According to Dr. Suzanne Bertisch, a sleep medicine specialist at BIDMC, here are some ways to ensure a healthy sleep schedule:

  • Keep the same wake-up time
  • Go to bed when you’re tired
  • Reduce alcohol consumption
  • Reduce caffeine consumption
  • Exercise most days of the week
  • Reduce stress

If you have any trouble sleeping, you should talk to your doctor about it. He or she can help pinpoint what may be causing the issue, so you can start catching some more quality Zzzz’s.

Conclusion

Valentine’s Day of this year may be over, but it’s still American Heart Month. And after all, your ticker is more important than heart-shaped chocolates, heart-shaped balloons, and heart-shaped cards combined! If some of these tips seem difficult, don’t be discouraged. Even the smallest changes can improve your heart health, and you might find that these small changes lead to bigger ones. The key to your heart health is just to start!

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