If you’re seeing red this month, it’s not just because Cupid is on his way (though that certainly impacts the color spectrum). Along with the month of love, February is also – appropriately – American Heart Month, and presents the perfect opportunity to assess your health and make some changes that will ensure you – and your heart – are performing optimally.
We know it’s tough to commit to major lifestyle changes, but these small, everyday habits can really make a big difference in the long-term. And since heart disease continues to be the nation’s leading cause of death, there’s no time like the present to start.
Pay attention to your bedtime
You’re an adult, but when it comes to getting the sleep you need, you may need to start treating yourself like a toddler. That’s because sleep deprivation – regularly getting fewer than six hours of sleep per night – can actually dramatically increase your risk of having a stroke or heart attack. Making sleep a priority in your life won’t just lower your risk of heart disease; good sleep is also linked to decreased stress, healthy body weight and increased concentration and productivity. Practice going to bed and getting up at the same time every day. The habit will soon become second nature – particularly as you notice the benefits.
Get up and move
You already know that getting regular exercise is healthy, but the reality is that Americans spend a huge percentage of their day sitting. That’s because most vocations these days are less physically demanding than in decades (and centuries) past. But all that sitting can really affect your health. If you have a sedentary job, it’s critical that you make a conscious effort to get up and move around throughout the day. A good rule of thumb is to take a short walk once every hour. Not only will this help get your blood circulating and your muscles moving, it can actually help boost your concentration and productivity.
Don’t cut out the fat
Heart healthy means zero fat, right? WRONG! Fat is a vital, important nutrient that your body needs to achieve optimal health. That said, certain types of fat – including trans fat – are known to increase your risk of developing heart disease and having a stroke. Trans fats raise your LDL or “bad” cholesterol levels and lower your HDL or “good” cholesterol levels, which can result in clogged arteries. Trans fats are those most commonly found in processed and packaged foods like fried fast foods, packaged chips, crackers and baked goods and in margarine. Make a point to read food labels every day and seek healthy fats – those found naturally in nuts, avocados, seafood and olive oil.
Keep out of the smoky scene
This day in age, you know better than to smoke (if you don’t, quitting is the ONE THING you should do RIGHT NOW). But it may not be enough to shun cigarettes yourself. Secondhand smoke can actually increase your risk of developing heart disease too. If you’re frequently exposed to tobacco smoke, your risk of heart disease may be 25 to 30 percent higher than if you weren’t. If you have friends or family who smoke regularly, express your concerns and ask them not to smoke in your presence. And if you have kids, never, ever allow them in places where they might breathe secondhand smoke.
See your dentist
While proper oral hygiene is something you should be practicing every day, seeing your dentist is something you only need to do twice a year (usually). That said, keeping these appointments is vital, as your mouth can actually offer good indications of how healthy your cardiovascular system is. That’s because bacteria in your mouth can cause gum disease, and that bacteria may move into the bloodstream and inflame blood vessels. This increases your risk of heart disease and stroke. If you don’t currently have dental insurance, it may be time to look at a plan – for your teeth and your heart.
From all of us to you and yours – have a happy and heart-healthy February!