February is American Heart Month, an entire month dedicated to reminding us to take a moment to focus on our heart health. Your heart is a muscle and it’s sole job is to pump blood throughout the body. But it isn’t as simple as that. That pumping supplies oxygen to every part of your body, delivers nutrients, and clears out waste. Keeping your heart healthy is one of the most important things you can do for your body, but it can easily be overlooked. In fact, heart disease is still the leading killer of Americans.
The first step to heart health is understanding your risks. There are risks you have no control over, and therefore cannot change, like your age, sex, and family history of early heart disease. You can take steps to lower your risk by changing factors you can control like high blood pressure, unhealthy blood cholesterol levels, diabetes, using tobacco products, and reaching and maintaining a healthy weight. Most of these will require you to work with a health professional to create a strategy that works for you. But there are a few things you can do right now, on your own, to start healthy heart habits.
Get enough (quality) sleep: Sleep isn’t just good for energy levels, it helps your body repair itself and function normally throughout the day. Adults who get less than 7 hours of sleep per night are more likely to say they’ve had health problems including heart attack, asthma, and depression (1). Here are six things you can start working on tonight to build healthy sleep habits.
Brush and floss your teeth: Gum disease is associated with a higher risk of heart disease. The bacteria that grows from poor dental health can increase the risk of bacterial infection in the bloodstream which can harm heart valves. There isn’t enough research that proves good oral health reduces heart disease, or poor oral health causes it, but good oral habits are important to build anyway. And if you are diagnosed with any kind of cardiovascular disease, make sure your dentist knows so they can take precautions before doing work in your mouth.
Start moving: Getting enough physical activity can reduce the risk of heart disease, and it is recommended adults get at least 150 minutes of it every week. Any kind of movement is considered physical activity, from walking to dancing to cleaning the house. While 150 minutes may sound like a lot, it really isn’t and it can be broken into chunks throughout the week, like a 30 minute walk every day for 5 days. Here are physical activity basics based on age for you and your family to review.
De-stress: Stress is a normal part of life, and sometimes small amounts of it can motivate us to perform well. High levels of stress, or even low-level stress on a regular basis, can have harmful effects on the heart because stress can cause high blood pressure, a weakened immune system, and more. While there is no one size fits all approach to stress reduction, here are ten tips you can consider to help you de-stress your life.
- CDC. (2017). Age-Adjusted Percentage Reporting Chronic Health Conditions by Sleep Duration—Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, United States, 2014.
Written by Adriene Worthington, RDN, LDN