February is American Heart Month, and we’re encouraging people not only in America but around the world to take this opportunity to check in on their heart health and implement some healthy habits that can reduce your risk for disease.
According to the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States—most commonly caused by coronary artery disease. Fortunately, many cases of heart disease can be prevented.
People around the world should be taking note of this staggering statistic, learning more about heart disease and actively working to combat it by implementing healthy habits in their daily lives. Here are a few things you can do this month—and every month—to reduce your risk for heart disease.
1. Exercise more
Regular exercise is not only good for your lungs and muscles but also your heart. Aerobic exercise, like jogging, running, biking or swimming, is key to strengthening the heart, reducing cholesterol, lowering blood pressure and lowering blood sugar levels.
The average adult needs at least 2.5 hours of physical activity per week. Doing short exercises each day can add up to this amount, or you can plan to hit the gym for a longer session once or twice a week. More exercise can lead to even greater improvements in your health and strength.
2. Choose healthy foods
Nutrition is a major component of heart health. Eating lots of fatty, processed foods may contribute to the development of heart disease, as can eating foods with lots of salt and sugar and drinking lots of alcohol. Poor food choices can also lead to excess weight gain, which puts you at a greater risk for heart disease.
You want to choose foods that are low in saturated and trans fats for the healthiest heart. Lots of fruits and vegetables are recommended, in addition to adequate amounts of protein from lean meats and complex carbohydrates.
This month, review your typical dietary choices. Do you fill your plate with colorful fruits and veggies, or do you tend to eat processed foods or fast foods? If you need to make a change, work on building healthy diet habits rather than overhauling your diet entirely, which isn’t as sustainable.
Make a goal to implement one or two new foods each week and plan your meals ahead of time to ensure you’re building balanced meals for every day. You can even use small changes, like swapping added salt out for other spices while cooking, to make a difference. Over time, you’ll build sustainable healthy habits and nourish your body and heart with the right vitamins and minerals.
3. Reduce risk factors
There are a few key risk factors for developing heart disease, including smoking, having high blood pressure and being overweight. Discuss these things with your doctor and examine options you have to make some lifestyle changes.
If you check more than one of these boxes, focus on one to start, such as quitting smoking. Many people who try to quit smoking go through other mental and bodily changes and may need to work through those while on their path to better heart health.
4. Manage stress
People know that stress is generally bad for them. First and foremost, it can make you feel cranky, tired and overwhelmed. However, chronic stress can also have a lasting physical toll and has been linked to heart disease.
Stress can elevate your blood pressure and cholesterol levels, as well as impact your ability to make healthy choices. Stressed people are more likely to overeat, smoke, drink and live sedentary lifestyles.
If you suffer from chronic stress, take steps to reduce your stress in the ways that work best for you. If your job is overwhelming, examine ways you can re-assign tasks or perhaps look for a new job entirely. If your stress is tied to things outside of your control, find healthy coping mechanisms, such as exercise, yoga, meditation and sleep.
Additionally, examine your own actions while you’re stressed. What harmful behaviors do you partake in that you can focus on redirecting to healthier coping mechanisms? Whether it’s smoking, drinking, eating, oversleeping or something else, identifying and then finding ways to work through these behaviors in a healthier way can make a world of a difference.
Share heart health with your family
Heart health and the choices that impact it don’t only affect you—they can affect your entire family. This month, take time to discuss healthy habits with your partner, children, family and friends and find ways you can work together to make healthier choices that can make a lasting impact on all of your health.