February is American Heart Health Month, and the American Heart Association offers some helpful tips to maintaining a heart-healthy lifestyle.
On their website, the AHA notes several ways to improve heart health. Many of them are very common methods and you’ve probably heard of them often, but they may not be quite as daunting as you’d expect. Let’s take a look at a few easy ways to improve heart health. Be sure to consult your doctor before starting a new exercise or diet plan.
1. Healthy Eating.
Okay, we all get a little bit disheartened at the idea of a diet, but increasing your heart health doesn’t have to mean subjecting yourself to a strict and miserable diet. Instead, you can save yourself the heartache (pun intended) by making a few simple swaps. Here are a few suggestions.
- If you’re craving a sweet snack, opt for fruit.
- Forget the sugary cereals and have oatmeal for breakfast.
- Try using Olive oil in place of butter.
- Reduce your salt intake.
2. Physical Activity
Before you talk yourself out of pursuing heart health, understand that a full gym workout is not necessarily the only way to use physical activity as a path to a healthier heart. While intense workouts can be great for the heart, they aren’t for everyone, and that’s okay. If you’re looking to start a little slower there are other physical activity options.
- Next time you’re at the store, pass up the good spots. Park at the back of the lot and walk a little extra. This is a simple way to increase exercise, and it only takes an extra minute or so out of your day.
- Skip the elevator and take the stairs. You’ll get more exercise, and you’ll likely reach your destination even faster.
- If your commute isn’t too long, take your bike to work. You’ll get a great workout, and you’ll avoid the traffic.
3. Weight Management
Maintaining a healthy weight is a key element to improving heart health, and it can be done in a few simple ways. If you’re observing the previous two tips, you’re already well on your way to a healthier system of weight management. You can also practice these methods.
- Portion control: divide your food into portions before eating it. This can be done a few ways. Many people have found success in cooking their own meals and pre-packaging them in to well-portioned meals to last them for a few days at a time. If you’re not much of a cook, or you don’t want to hassle with planning meals days in advance, then eat what you regularly eat, but only eat half. If you’re out to dinner, divide your meal in half as soon as it arrives, and ask for a box for the half you’re saving. This will deter you from eating it, as if it remains on your plate, it can be easy to mindlessly dig in and overeat without even realizing it.
- Set goals, but make sure that they are realistic. Being ambitious is good, but if your goals are unattainable, you’ll be left feeling discouraged and frustrated. Set small, achievable goals that build off of each other. You’ll feel great, and you’ll look great, too!
- Keep a food journal. This, too, helps to avoid mindless snacking. If you know you’ve got to record everything you eat, you’ll be more mindful of what you’re eating as well as how often you’re eating. This method is also helpful as it allows you to look back and track your progress day-to-day.
4. Stress Management
Stress is an inevitable part of life and it can be very damaging to the body and the heart. Causing aches and pains, irritability, anxiety, anger and more, stress is a detriment to your health. Having a healthy response to stress is one way that the American Heart Association notes you can achieve a healthier lifestyle. Here are some response outlined on their site.
- Sleep 6-8 hours a night. Getting enough sleep is essential if you wish to function at your highest capacity. The right amount of rest will allow you to be more productive and knock out some of those projects that stressed you out in the first place.
- Make a list. If you’ve got a lot on your mind, or if you’ve got a lot to do, make a list. Writing things down allows you to actually visualize the quantity of what you’re dealing with, and more easily prioritize. Plus, there’s nothing more fulfilling than crossing a chore off of your list once it’s done!
- Get some social interaction. Grab a coffee with a friend or call your mom. Talking with those that you love is a great way to relieve stress, and they might even have some helpful insight.
- Breathe. Understand that everything will work out in the end. You may be overwhelmed, but it will pass.
5. Quit Smoking
If you’re a smoker, this probably comes as no surprise. Generally speaking, people, commercials, billboards and more address the dangers of smoking, and few are subtle about it. In addition to the lung damage that smoking can cause, it can also be a detriment to heart health.
Many people are familiar with the fact that smoking is linked to lung cancer and lung diseases, but it is also a known cause of heart disease. Smoking and secondhand smoke are responsible for nearly one-third of fatal cases of coronary heart disease. Other negative effects on the heart caused by smoking are temporarily increased blood pressure, increased likelihood of blood clotting, and difficulty exercising, among other things.