This month is all about having heart – and I’m not talking about Valentine’s Day. February is American Heart Month, a time to honor the hardest-working organ in the human body! The extended celebration also provides the perfect opportunity to address the number one killer in this country: heart disease. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 600,000 people die from heart disease in the US each year - that’s 1 in every 4 deaths! Those are some scary statistics, but fortunately, heart disease can be easily prevented and controlled. Read on for some tips on how to lower your risk.
Eat a healthy, well-rounded diet.
Here’s another reason to keep that New Year's resolution - eating well is one of the best steps you can take to avoid heart disease. Fruits, vegetables, and whole grains contain substances that can prevent cardiovascular disease (plus, they’re low-calorie). By contrast, saturated fats, trans fats, and cholesterol can all increase your risk of developing problems; you can limit your consumption by reducing the amount of butter, margarine, and shortening in the meals you cook and order.
Maintain a healthy weight.
Being overweight, underweight, or obese puts you at a heightened risk of developing heart disease. In order to keep a healthy weight, you’ll need to make sure that the amount of calories you consume equal those that you work off through exercise. Drinking water instead of soda, eating smaller portions, and choosing low-fat foods are all measures you can take to stay healthy.
Work up a sweat.
Your heart is a muscle, and the best way to strengthen a muscle is to exercise it. The Surgeon General recommends that adults engage in moderate exercise for at least 30 minutes, at least 5 days a week. Run, walk, swim – do whatever you want, as long as it makes you sweat!
If you don’t smoke, keep it that way, and if you do, quit as soon as you can. These days, there are plenty of products and treatments that make quitting significantly easier, so there’s really no excuse to keep this bad habit, which has been directly linked to heart disease in many, many studies.
Have your blood pressure and cholesterol checked regularly.
High blood pressure is like a sneaky assassin, slowly wearing down your cardiovascular system over many years. Good assassins rarely make themselves known, so in order to determine if you have high blood pressure, you’ll need to have it checked regularly by a doctor or at home. Additionally, your health care provider should test your cholesterol levels once every 5 years.
Don’t get discouraged.
The path to lifelong heart health is long, and slip-ups are inevitable. There might be a time when you eat a double cheeseburger, or spend a day watching Netflix, or even smoke a cigarette. Just remember that there’s always tomorrow, and promise to try harder.
The best way to keep your power pump working at maximum efficiency is to set rules for a healthier lifestyle, and then stick to them. So this February, have hope, have heart, and best of luck!