Heart Healthy Habits to Embrace

By Carol Phillips

February is the month to focus on heart health. According to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), heart disease is the cause of death of one out of every four people in the United States, and leaves people at high risk of heart attack and stroke.

Think of heart health this way: If you sustained a major injury, which muscles in your body could you live without? Technically, most of our muscles aren’t critical for survival, but we can’t live without our heart. Every day, we need to make choices that will help us avoid heart disease and live a heart healthy lifestyle.

Which of the following activities are already part of your regular routine? Which ones can you adopt, starting today, to reduce your risk of becoming a victim? 

Keep your body moving. Hours of inactivity is the breeding ground for heart disease. Your heart is a muscle that needs to be exercised, so the more you move, the stronger it becomes. Incorporate movement throughout the day to keep your blood circulating more effectively.

Feed your heart. Your heart pumps blood, which carries nutrients to all parts of your body, including your heart. Eat heart-healthy foods including fruits, vegetables (especially leafy greens), whole grains, nuts, and salmon. Avoid foods high in sugar, salt, and saturated fat, and processed foods, including chips, pastries, and fatty meats. Unhealthy food clogs our arteries, choking away our health. Stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water, so your heart can pump properly.

Stress management. How well do you control everyday stress? Uncontrolled stress contributes to high blood pressure, which forces your heart to overwork, increasing your chance of having a heart attack. Learning how to adopt a positive attitude and taking time to R-E-L-A-X and meditate will help your heart work more efficiently. 

Sleep. Quantity and quality of sleep are critical for heart health. Allow enough time each night and set up your environment to allow your brain to get into a deep sleep and stay there, uninterrupted. For example, go to bed at the same time each night and keep the room at a comfortable temperature. 

Live in a healthy weight range. People often have a number in their head of what they’d like to weigh but believe they will never achieve that goal, leaving them far from a healthy weight. Instead of setting yourself up for failure, learn what is a healthy weight range for you. Make simple changes each day that will, over time, help you move toward that goal, thus improving your heart health. Celebrate small successes, which are anything but small in importance, as they reduce your risk of heart disease.

Quit smoking or at least cut down. Smoking significantly increases your risk of heart disease. If you smoke, challenge yourself to discover why you smoke and come up with a plan to move in a smoke-free direction. If going cold turkey works for you, great! If not, slowly tapering off is just as important!

Limit or eliminate alcohol. Excessive drinking can take a major toll on a person’s heart, and negatively affects other areas of life, as well. If you struggle to control alcohol consumption (including beer), reach out for help. Seeking assistance is a sign of strength, not weakness. Find a local A.A. (Alcoholics Anonymous) meeting and encourage yourself to attend. Every person in attendance made the same important step at one point in their lives. You can do it, too. Your heart will thank you!

Visit the American Heart Association’s website (heart.org) for more information. While you’re there, consider signing up for a CPR class. You’ll learn the skills needed to help someone if they’re having medical emergency, such as a heart attack. A great balance in life is taking care of our heart health and helping others along the way!

Carol Phillips is a national health and wellness expert, the award-winning author of 52 Simple Ways to Health, and the radio host of Ask Coach Carol. Her company, Health Design, helps businesses significantly reduce costs and increase productivity by prioritizing health, wellness, and safety practices. Health Design is a SHRM Recertification Provider. Based in Manchester, NH, she can be reached through her website at HealthDesignNH.com.