Most people know Valentine’s Day is just around the corner, but chocolate hearts aren’t the only ones occupying the spotlight this time of year. February also marks American Heart Month, which is a great time to commit (or recommit!) yourself to making choices that will positively impact your cardiovascular health.
Sadly, heart disease is the number one cause of death in the United States. A sedentary lifestyle, obesity, a high-sodium diet, and smoking are all major risk factors that are, unfortunately, common among many Americans. Consider this: most of us have jobs that keep us sitting for a large part of the day. Diets that are high in sugar and refined flour not only cause us to pack on the pounds but also create an inflammatory environment in our bodies, leading to blood vessel constriction. Too much salt in our food raises blood pressure to dangerous levels. And among numerous other health consequences, smoking damages blood vessels and blood cells.
Chances are you struggle with only one or two of these risk factors rather than all of them, but no matter where you find yourself in your health journey, any step toward breaking bad habits is a step in the right direction. As a matter of fact, these improvable health risks are related to a good portion of the illnesses Liberty HealthShare’s HealthTrac members face, fight, and conquer each day. Every month, we graduate members from the HealthTrac program, which means improvement in cardiovascular health is possible and even probable with the right lifestyle changes!
Here are a couple things you should know as you think about and assess your heart health:
- A diagnosis of cardiovascular disease is not a death sentence, nor does it have to be permanent. It is never too late to make positive lifestyle changes.
- An absence of heart disease symptoms doesn’t necessarily equal a clean bill of health. Many people with cardiovascular illness are not initially aware that they are sick.
- Even minor adjustments to your lifestyle can have large impacts. Don’t get overwhelmed by the prospect of making changes. Instead, start small and then build up to larger shifts for better heart health.
There are many ways, both big and small, that you can go about increasing your cardiovascular health. Here are just a few suggestions:
- Set a reminder for periodic stretch and walk breaks throughout your workday.
- Remember to consult your physician prior to engaging in aerobic exercise if you have a heart condition or if you need medical clearance for any other reason. If your doctor agrees that this would be helpful for you, find a way to work 30 minutes of aerobic exercise into your daily routine. Take a walk, swim, or attend a class at your local gym or community center.
- Practice portion control at mealtimes. Fill up on healthy fats, free-range meats, and fruits and vegetables.
- Skip synthetic sweeteners and butter substitutes. Instead use honey (in moderation) and virgin, unfiltered, cold-pressed oils like olive and coconut.
- Taste your food first before salting it. Even better, switch from table salt to herbs, spices, and sea salt for more flavor and less sodium.
- Talk to your doctor about the best program for smoking cessation. This may be a combination of nicotine replacement, counseling, and accountability. Everyone is different in the approach that best works for them.
As always, talk to your doctor first to assess your current health and make a plan for improving your lifestyle, diet, and activity level. Your doctor can be your partner as you pursue better heart health. Invite him or her into the process so you can be set up for success.
American Heart Month is the perfect time to start implementing lifestyle strategies that can improve both your lifespan and the quality of it. This February, demonstrate your love for yourself and others by putting your heart first.
Health & Happiness,
Health and Wellness Director