Five Top Tips for Heart Health

February – the time of hearts and flowers – is also the perfect time to think about keeping your cardiac muscle in good shape. Heart disease is the leading cause of death for men and women in the United States, causing one of every four deaths annually. The good news? Heart disease can often be prevented by making healthy choices.

As the American Heart Foundation’s American Heart Month unfolds, Judson’s experts offer five top tips for keeping your ticker in tip-top condition.

1) Eat Healthy

Your heart is a hard-working muscle, pumping nutrients throughout your body about 60 times a minute, 24 hours a day, every day of your life. To keep that machine running, you need the proper fuel. In most cases, that means:

  • Eat plenty of fruits, veggies and healthy fats.
  • Rely on heart-healthy fats like olive oil and coconut oil and eliminate trans fats, which are found in many pre-packaged products.
  • Limit your sodium intake, especially if you have hypertension.
  • Avoid sweets and sugary beverages.
  • Remember this piece of nutritional wisdom: “If it grows like a plant, eat it. If it’s made in a plant, think about it.”

2) Get Regular Physical Activity

Thirty minutes of moderate activity, five days per week, is the “gold standard” for good health. But that 150 minutes doesn’t necessarily require a gym membership or costly equipment. The simplest way to get your daily exercise is by walking – at the mall, with the dog, or in the company of friends or family – and all it takes is a good pair of shoes.

Other options include swimming, cardio or aerobic classes. The key is to find something you enjoy, and stick with it. And remember: While 150 minutes a week should be your goal, anything is better than nothing.

3) Maintain a Healthy Weight

If you are already following Steps #1 and #2, above, chances are you are well on your way to a healthy weight. Try these tips as well:

  • Read food labels for portion and calorie information.
  • Manage calorie intake by weighing and measuring serving sizes.
  • Know your numbers, including your blood pressure, pulse rate, cholesterol levels, and BMI – or Body Mass Index, a measure of your weight-to-height ratio. While it has some limitations, your BMI provides a good estimate of whether or not you need to gain, lose or maintain your current weight. There are many online BMI calculators; you can find one from the National Institutes of Health here.

4) Manage Your Stress

Young or old, rich or poor: Everyone experiences stress. It’s so ubiquitous, in fact, that some wellness experts consider it a hidden epidemic. As with weight management, eating nutritious foods and getting regular physical exercise can be very helpful. Here are a few other tips to help you relax:

  • Be nice to yourself. Rather than beating yourself up over past mistakes or fretting over future challenges, treat yourself to some positive self-regard. After all, you didn’t get this far in life without knowing how to do at least a few things right.
  • Practice meditation or yoga. When you focus on the present, past and future worries seem less dire.
  • Get adequate, restful sleep. Sleep allows your body and all its systems to recharge and recuperate. In fact, recent studies indicate a lack of restful sleep correlates with many maladies, including weight gain and Alzheimer’s disease. While sleeping pills or alcoholic “nightcaps” may seem helpful in the short run, they generally introduce their own problems over time. See your doctor for long-term assistance.

5) Try to Quit Smoking and Reduce Alcohol Consumption

Smoking, especially, is a hard habit to break; you can find tips and resources from the Centers for Disease Control here. Heavy use of alcohol is also problematic, especially as age-related changes affect the metabolism and make the effects of drinking more pronounced.

While for some people, any amount of alcohol consumption can be unwise, research has suggested that the flavonoids and other antioxidants in a daily glass of red wine might reduce heart disease risk. However the American Heart Association says there is no scientific proof that drinking wine or any other alcoholic beverage can replace conventional measures like managing your weight and eating nutritious foods.

We hope you find some value in these tips to keep your heart healthy! Have a safe and heart-healthy February!

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