Your heart works hard for you nonstop for your whole life. So show it some tender love and care this month during national hearth month.
Making small changes in your habits can make a real difference to your ticker.
Even if you improve just one or two of these areas, you may be less likely to get heart disease. Of course, the more tips on this list you follow, the better you will feel.
That cuff squeezing your arm at every doctor’s visit is important. It is the most common way of measuring the amount of pressure flowing through your blood vessels with every heartbeat. The heart is the powerhouse that pushes blood through these vessels, delivering blood (filled with necessary nutrients, electrolytes and oxygen) to all your vital organs. So measuring this pressure is essentially measuring how well your powerhouse is working.
If your blood pressure gets too high, the extra force can damage artery walls and create scar tissue. That makes it harder for blood and oxygen to get to and from your heart. The heart has to pump harder and gets worn out faster.
Some easy ways to lower your blood pressure: Cut back on salt, limit alcohol to no more than one to two drinks a day, favor healthy eating habits (think fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean protein) manage your stress and work out. These changes are often enough to bring your blood pressure back down into the normal range. If not, your doctor might recommend you also take medication.
The next time you’re tempted to stay up later than you should, remember how comfy that pillow will feel and how good a full night’s sleep is for your heart.
In one study, young and middle-age adults who slept seven hours a night had less calcium in their arteries (an early sign of heart disease) than those who slept five hours or less or those who slept nine hours or more.
The type of shut-eye they got was important, too. Adults who said they got good-quality sleep also had healthier arteries than those who didn’t sleep soundly.
If you have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep at night, or if you don’t feel refreshed after a full night in bed, talk to your doctor about what changes you can make to help.
CUT THE FATS
To help your heart and arteries function best, cut down on saturated fats, which are found in meat and full-fat dairy products. Choose leaner cuts and reduced-fat options.
Also, totally quit trans-fats, which are found in some processed foods. They drive up your “bad” (LDL) cholesterol level. Check ingredient lists for anything that says “hydrogenated” or “partially hydrogenated” — those are trans-fats.
To keep it simple, you can aim for 30 minutes a day, five days a week of moderate exercise. That includes any activity that gets you moving around and breaking a slight sweat.
While there are many opinions of the type of exercise recommended, both cardiovascular exercise as well as strength training are important in building overall heart health and wellness. The easy answer is if you’re doing nothing, do something. And if you’re doing something, do more.
Also, pay attention to how much time you spend seated, whether it’s at work, in your car or on your couch at home. You want to decrease the amount of time you spend sitting. Break up long periods of sitting, and stand or walk while doing things like talking on the phone or watching television.
CLEAN UP YOUR DIET
Your heart works best when it runs on clean fuel. That means lots of whole, plant-based foods (like fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds) and fewer refined or processed foods (like white bread, pasta, crackers and cookies).
One of the fastest ways to clean up your diet is to cut out sugary beverages like soda and fruit juice, which lacks the fiber that’s in actual fruit.
College students drink a lot of their calories, and many of those drinks provide little, if any nutritional value.
DITCH THE SMOKE (REAL AND ELECTRONIC)
Smoking and secondhand smoke are bad for your heart.
E-cigarettes are popular with college students, but they’re not problem-free. While they can help some people wean themselves off of smoking, they still contain harmful levels of nicotine and other toxic chemicals, so your goal should be to quit completely.
DO WHAT YOU LOVE
Lastly, during the month of love, and every day — try managing stress in a healthy way. Stress management is essential in lowering that blood pressure! This can be done with meditation, yoga, listening to music, a hobby, exercise or any other activity you find relaxing.
Make it a point to spend time with people you are close to. Talk, laugh, confide and enjoy each other. It’s good for your emotional health as well as your heart.
*The American Heart Association has designated February as National Heart Health Month. For more information, make an appointment at Etter Health Center or refer to aha.org.