Five ways to love your heart this February

By David R. McWhorter, PA-C, Salem Health Specialty Clinic – Cardiology

As February approaches, most thoughts are on Valentine’s Day being just around the corner. Many view February as the month of love, and recognize the heart shape as an enduring symbol. Thus, February was the natural choice to designate as American Health Month, observed annually to focus on cardiovascular health.

Heart disease is the leading killer of Americans, taking the lives of 2,200 people each day. In addition, 103 million adults have high blood pressure and 6.5 million are living with heart failure.

While genetic factors do play a part in cardiovascular disease, the good news is 80 percent of cardiovascular diseases may be preventable with education and action. Simple lifestyle changes can make a big impact when it comes to heart health. Show your heart some love with these five tips.

1. Stop smoking

Quitting smoking is the best thing you can do for your heart and for overall health. Smoking is the most preventable cause of premature death in the United States, and smokers have a higher risk of developing many chronic disorders, including atherosclerosis, or the buildup of fatty substances in the arteries. When combined with other heart disease risk factors, smoking increases the risks associated with those factors. Quitting is never easy, but there are lots of helpful resources for those looking to make this healthy change.

2. Know your numbers

Maintaining a healthy weight, blood pressure, cholesterol and blood glucose level plays a significant role in maintaining a healthy heart. While there are standard guidelines for blood glucose, blood pressure and cholesterol, ideal weight goals are individual to each person. Your health care team can help determine an appropriate weight goal based on additional factors such as age and height.

3. Get active

Heart pumping physical activity not only helps to prevent cardiovascular disease but can also improve overall mental and physical health.

The American Heart Association recommends five, 30-minute moderate exercise sessions each week. While this may seem daunting, it is important to note that these sessions can be broken up into 10- or 15-minute segments throughout the day.

Walking, jogging, biking and swimming are all great forms of exercise. It is important to remember that something is always better than nothing. Opting to take the stairs and parking farther back in the parking lot are great ways to squeeze in activity when time is short. Also, strength training can complement cardiovascular exercise by toning muscles and burning fat. The American Heart Association recommends getting in two days of moderate to high-intensity strength training each week.

4. Eat smart

A healthy diet full of heart-smart foods is essential to a healthy heart and lifestyle. Salmon, nuts, berries and oats are just a few of the heart “superfoods” that may help reduce the risk of atherosclerosis. Dark chocolate is also on the list and, in moderation, is a great way to satisfy a sweet tooth.

5. Stress less and sleep more

Stress increases cortisol, which leads to weight gain, a key risk factor for heart disease. In addition, stress can lead to other unhealthy habits, making it harder to stick to a heart-healthy program. Stress can also decrease overall happiness and increase the risk for anxiety and depression.

Practicing positive self-talk and incorporating mindfulness meditation breaks throughout the day, along with the four other steps above, can also help with reducing stress.

Similarly, sleeping restores the body, helps decrease stress and increases overall happiness. To reap the full benefits, clocking seven hours each night is key for adults. A calming bedtime routine and going to bed and waking at the same time each day are all great ways to establish health sleep patterns. Getting ample sunshine and physical activity throughout the day also aid in improving sleep quality.

Need help with getting heart-healthy? Salem Health hosts a variety of classes and events in recognition of heart month. Sign up here or follow Salem Health on Facebook to learn more.

Two hands holding a ceramic heart.