February is known as National Heart Health Month in America. As I see Valentine’s Day heart-shaped gifts and candies for sale in the stores it makes me wonder why in America we focus on giving our loved ones sugary treats to express our love when the topic of heart disease is so prevalent everywhere we look. Health organizations have researched heart disease for many years; and although genetics may be an important factor, our daily lifestyles and choices affect our heart health in a major way.
Most of us have a variety of habits, some good and some bad. We know the basic rules of good health, but as our stressful days of having a job, taking care of a family, and paying bills winds down many of us push the idea of exercising or enjoying a healthy meal or snack to the bottom of our to do list. Since we are half way through National Heart Health Month, let’s try to remember to incorporate these heart disease prevention habits into our daily lives. If you have children in your home this is a wonderful time to teach them good habits through encouraging healthy food choices and daily activity, and most of all by showing them through being a good role model by improving or maintaining your health.
As you ponder over the many gift choices this Valentine season try to show your family how much you truly care by encouraging and modeling healthy lifestyle choices. This will keep your family active (and maybe you will even spend more quality time together), reduce stress on the heart, body, and mind, and of course increase good habits for all of you.
Now that we understand the importance of habits in our daily lives, what are the good habits we need to focus on to maintain our heart health?
We know smoking is bad for our health and that research shows quitting smoking reduces the risk of heart disease. Now is the time to quit!
Regular physical activity has many benefits such as helping you quit smoking, losing weight, reducing stress, lowering blood pressure and increasing HDL cholesterol. Doing aerobic exercise — using large muscles of the legs and arms — on most days of the week for 30 to 60 minutes helps your heart work more efficiently. Physical activities to improve your strength, flexibility and balance help you stay agile as you age.
It’s important to learn how to recognize how stress affects you, learn how to deal with it, and develop healthy habits to ease your stress. Stress is your body’s response to change. The body reacts to stress by releasing adrenaline (a hormone) that causes your breathing and heart rate to speed up, and your blood pressure to rise. Constant or continuous stress can be harmful to your heart health. The good news is you can actively manage your stress before it becomes a problem. Understand stress triggers and learn how to respond to stressful situations at home and at work with stress management skills that work best for you.
Do you really know what it means to eat healthy? The American Heart Association recently developed new dietary guidelines for a heart-healthy diet that will help lower our heart disease risk. According to the new AHA guidelines eating right means:
Eat more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy, poultry, fish and nuts
Avoid red meat, as well as sugary and processed foods
Avoid foods high in sodium
“Eating a healthy diet is not about good foods and bad foods in isolation from the rest of your diet – it’s about the overall diet,” says Robert Eckel, M.D., previous AHA president and co-chair of the new guideline committee.
Learn more ways to prevent heart disease and make healthier lifestyle changes at any age by visiting these reliable nutrition information websites: