Written by Bonnie McLaughlin for IVitamin
February is American Heart Month, a month-long opportunity to kick-start any heart healthy plans and really think about how what you’re doing affects your heart health. Nearly 80% of cardiovascular diseases are preventable according to the American Heart Association, meaning that you have fantastic odds to avoid heart issues if you make good choices and pay attention to the things that put you at risk.
So in the spirit of being your stop for all things health and wellness, we’ve decided to list out some of the most important tips to keeping your heart happy!
Get Annual Checkups
But not just annual ones, you also need regular checkups if during your annual appointment they discover that anything is unhealthy or worrisome. Don’t just accept a diagnosis from your doctor and leave though. Work out a plan and check in regularly to see how you are progressing so that you can make changes as needed.
This seems like a no-brainer but it’s super important to be mindful of what you’re ingesting. The most important thing to remember for heart health is to avoid trans fats. They are usually listed on ingredients as hydrogenated oils and can raise LDL (bad cholesterol) while simultaneously lowering HDL (good cholesterol).
Getting enough sleep is so important to not just heart health, but overall health as well. The amount you need varies from person to person but somewhere between 6-8 hours a night is the sweet spot according to the American Heart Association. Not convinced sleep has any bearing on your heart? A recent study found that adults over the age of 45 who slept fewer than six hours each night were almost twice as likely to have a stroke or heart attack than people who sleep 6-8 hours a night. If you’re not running to your bed you may want to read that again.
People leading sedentary lives are at a drastically higher risk for heart disease than those leading active lifestyles. Sitting for long periods of time has been linked to an increased risk of blood clots, so regular walking breaks at your desk job are vital. Other ideas? Park farther away from the office, take the stairs, use a standing desk, and check out office yoga/stretches you can do in your work space. This doesn’t replace regular exercise though, it’s in addition to your 3-4 days a week gym visits. Motion is lotion, y’all.
Get away from smokers NOW
Avoid secondhand smoke LIKE THE PLAGUE. The risk of developing heart disease is about 25-30 percent higher for those exposed to secondhand smoke. Obviously this depends on how often you’re subjected to it but really make an effort to avoid it at all costs. That poison can kill the person who inhales it regularly, so think about what it could be doing to you.
Tame your Stress Level
Chronic stress can increase your blood pressure, influence your cholesterol, and lead to inactivity and overeating. Stress has such a bold effect on humans in so many different ways but your heart can be the most vulnerable. Take time to relax and rejuvenate, destress, and allow your mind and body time to rest. It’s not overindulgent to take care of yourself!
Calm down with the Booze
Please don’t throw things at me, but please limit your alcohol intake. Drinking too much/too often can raise your blood pressure and cause weight gain from the calorie intake, both of which can increase your risk of heart disease. According to the National Library of Medicine, men should have no more than two alcoholic drinks per day, and women shouldn’t have more than one.
Be Aware of your Blood Sugar Level
Remember those regular doctors appointments we encouraged you to make? Make sure that one of the tests they run (and monitor) is your blood sugar. High blood sugar can lead to diabetes, which can double your risk of heart disease because over time, high blood sugar can damage your blood vessels and the nerves that control your heart and blood vessels. Make sure you monitor your blood sugar levels with the regular doctors appointments we mentioned above and if you do have diabetes, be incredibly mindful in your maintenance.
Avoid preconceived notions about who is affected by heart disease. There’s this weird idea that only older, overweight people struggle with it. Don’t let age or weight fool you. Heart attacks happen to fit people in their 20s. Heart disease can happen to anyone at any time. What’s up to you is how you address your risk factors ahead of time.
Want to do some reading on your own? Check out the links below and stay tuned to IVitamin’s blog for more health and wellness advice!
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