Improving Your Heart Health
While February is American Heart Month, improving the health of your heart and taking care of the most important muscle in your body should be one of your year round goals. Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States for both men and women, tragically costing the lives of around 700,000 people in the year 2020. While it is true that your genetics is one dimension in determining your risk of heart disease, there are many more lifestyle factors that have an impact, such as obesity, diet, physical inactivity, cigarette smoking, excessive alcohol use, and more.
- Get moving: A sedentary lifestyle is actually one of the biggest risk factors and contributors to chronic illness as we age. Studies have shown that physical inactivity and sedentary living were leading factors among men who died of cardiovascular disease. And while that may sound dismaying, it is actually great news, as it is one of the factors that is easiest to control. To counteract the negative effects of physical inactivity, simply get more physical activity. Moving your body more can remove the risk that a sedentary lifestyle poses to your heart. It is recommended that we get at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise each week, so walking for a mere thirty minutes each day would more than satisfy that requirement. If you want to take it to the next level, incorporating weight training two or three times a week into your exercise regimen would help out, as strength training has proven health benefits for your heart.
- Smoking cigarettes has a laundry list of negative health effects that have been long studied and understood. These detrimental health effects are especially true where your heart is concerned. Cigarette smokers are two to four times more likely to develop heart disease than nonsmokers, making quitting now a compelling reason. Smoking also increases your risk of stroke, in addition to heart attacks and heart disease. Heavy alcohol use also has negative effects on your overall health, and despite some debate, experts have recently agreed that no amount of alcohol is heart healthy. Moderation is key to enjoying alcohol in a heart healthy lifestyle. Consuming no more than one or two drinks each day will prevent any damage to your cardiovascular health.
- Your diet is another critical component for your heart health. Trans fats, which are found in many packaged goods, butter substitutes, and fried foods, often listed as “partially hydrogenated oils”, are terrible for your heart. Instead, choose healthier fats like the ones found in nuts, olive oil, or avocados. The Mediterranean diet, focused on eating fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, seafood, poultry, dairy and healthy fats, is a well rounded diet that the Mayo Clinic considers to be one of the heart healthiest diets.
- Sleep is an important part of maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Sleep can help your cardiovascular system by helping repair and heal your heart and blood vessels, lowering your risk of many chronic diseases like heart disease, obesity, hypertension, diabetes, and stroke.