For many of us, February is filled with heart-shaped candy, jewelry, and cards in celebration of Valentine’s Day. As we celebrate the loved ones who make our hearts flutter, it’s also a good time to prioritize our cardiovascular health. After all, February is American Heart Month.
Read on to learn more about the importance of heart health, along with some ways to reduce your risk of heart disease.
Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States. In fact, 1 out of 4 deaths are related to heart conditions (though they tend to show up differently in men compared to women).
Heart disease includes several types of heart conditions, including but not limited to:
● Coronary artery disease (CAD), the most common type of heart disease
● Arrhythmia, or heart rhythm abnormalities
● Atherosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries
● Cardiomyopathy, which affects the heart muscle
● Heart infections caused by bacteria, viruses, or parasites
● Congenital heart defects, or irregularities present from birth
Fortunately, heart disease is preventable in many people. An understanding of heart disease risk factors and a healthy lifestyle can make a world of difference for your organ health.
Heart disease doesn’t discriminate. It affects men and women alike in a variety of populations; nearly half of all Americans are at risk of heart disease.
Some heart disease risk factors are more controllable than others. For example, you can’t control your family history, ethnicity, sex, and age.
However, there are a few more controllable risk factors, including:
● High blood pressure, or hypertension
● High cholesterol
● Excessive alcohol use
● Chronic stress
● Physical inactivity
A drastic overnight lifestyle change may work for some people, but it’s not sustainable for most. Instead, start by focusing on a series of smaller changes until they become second nature.
5 steps you can take to improve your heart health include:
Simply put: get your muscles moving! Physical activity is a great way to get your blood flowing, increase your heart rate, and relax your mind.
If exercise isn’t part of your routine at all, start by taking quick walks every day and gradually increase the length and intensity. Choose activities you enjoy so it becomes something you look forward to, rather than dread. For example: if you hate going to the gym, try a bike ride or yoga instead.
We’re not talking about a restrictive fad diet—as with exercise, you’ll want this to be a sustainable part of your lifestyle that will stick long-term.
A heart-healthy diet is low in saturated and trans fats, sugar, and salts, and high in fiber and healthy fats. If you’re a fan of salmon and guacamole, you’re in luck—these are loaded with heart-healthy fats!
Stress doesn’t just affect your mental health; it wreaks havoc on your body by accelerating the aging process and raising blood pressure.
Reduce your stress levels by staying physically active, getting plenty of sleep, staying connected to loved ones, and avoiding overly stressful situations. Some individuals may also benefit from professional mental health in the form of therapy, prescription medications, or both.
Smoking is a significant heart disease risk factor (not to mention lung disease, cancer, and other smoking-related health conditions). Fortunately, it’s never too late to quit.
Quitting smoking may seem like a daunting task, so don’t be afraid to seek support.
It’s one thing to reduce your overall stress levels, but it’s another thing to carve out time in your day for intentional relaxation. Take some time to breathe slowly and deeply for a few minutes every day; you may even benefit from meditation.
Mindfulness and meditation can help you to feel more connected to your body and the world around you. You may see the benefits in a few ways: better sleep, improved stress levels, less of a desire to overeat, and better overall health.
By adopting a healthy lifestyle, you can simultaneously boost your heart health and reduce your risk of heart disease.