Shhhh…listen. Hear that steady rhythm, your beating heart? Your heart has got your back…and muscles, organs, and bones, all day and all night, all the time. Are you thankful? Goes without saying, of course you are. Do you take the time to show it all the TLC you can? Maybe.
Despite best intentions, everyone is susceptible to becoming overstretched and over-stressed. After taking care of our families, our homes, our workplace responsibilities, and more…we often neglect to take care of ourselves. Or, sometimes our best efforts to do best by our bodies result in other stresses and fatigue. There are always tradeoffs. Luckily, most powerful measures we can take to better our health are those that we can incorporate sustainably into a healthy lifestyle. This February, embrace American Heart Month by taking time to talk a little tenderness with your loyal beating heart, and check in with yourself. Are there any small changes you can make to even better protect heart health? Here, four key ingredients for heart (and whole body) health:
Get physical. It’s no secret that being physically active is a key ingredient to improved and maintained cardiovascular–and overall–health. The American Heart Association suggests aiming for 30 minutes a day five times a week or more of moderate exercise. When time constraints make fitness goals daunting, remember that anything that makes your body move and burn calories constitutes activity. Find simple ways to increase movement throughout the day when you can. Take walk breaks and stretch breaks, and take the stairs. Park further from work, or better yet, commute actively to work whenever possible. Find what you like to do, and get it on a schedule you can commit to. Something is better than nothing, so even when you’ve only got a few spare minutes to inject a few jumping jacks into your day, just do it. Keep track of your progress, by hand or with recording tools such as a fitbit…you may surprise yourself with just how much you do fit in a day, and find your motivation starts to soar.
Eat well for heart health. Good nutrition is a powerful weapon against heart disease, and in fact all diseases. That said, continually barraged with media on diet trends and nutritional advice, deciding what “good” means can be overwhelming. Certain guiding principles hold strong regardless of the fads. Not least, filling your plate with colorful fruits and vegetables. Try keeping pre-washed and sliced fruits and vegetables in handy, accessible containers at eye level in the fridge. These will serve as great, grounding reminders and energizing, delicious quick snacks. Aim to eat a variety of fish, especially those that contain omega-3 fatty acids such as wild salmon, 2-3 times a week. Build main meals around vegetables, whether planning meatless meals or taking on a less meat, more flavor approach. In adopting a mind-set that prioritizes plant-powered nutrition, you’ll find you’re automatically incorporating heart-healthy fiber-rich foods and a variety of nutrients, and limiting unhealthy fats. For great meal planning ideas, check out LiveWell Colorado’s Pinterest pages!
Sleep. Exercise and diet go a long way, but to really make health a priority, sleep is an essential, too. According to a 2011 study by the American Heart Association, poor sleep quality is linked to an increased risk of high blood pressure, a potential cause of heart disease. Although what constitutes an optimal night’s sleep exactly may be hard to pinpoint, and may vary, most studies concur that six to eight hours of sleep each day is ideal. Too much or too little can mean problems. People who are sleep deprived tend to have slower metabolisms and more difficulty losing weight. They feel sluggish, edgy, and unmotivated. On the flip side, getting consistent, solid sleep affects stress hormones, breathing, immunity, and mental state. That means, more alertness, improved concentration, less depression and anxiety, greater motivation. If you’re having trouble falling asleep at night, exercise regularly, are avoiding stimulants like caffeine and TV right before bed, try establishing or revitalizing a restful evening routine. Turn off electronic devices and enjoy a hot shower, soothing cup of herbal tea, and a good book.
Relax. No one is impervious to stress. In the workplace, in the home, in life in general. We carry stress when it comes to meeting deadlines, taking care of finances, finding the time, caring for others. A little stress is a good thing, too. It can be a motivator, like on the starting line of a 5K. But we all know, a little goes a long way, and stress can easily build up and be cause for breakdown. Stress can markedly increase risk of heart problems, including high blood pressure and heart attacks. So, what to do to stave off this ever lurking killer? Studies show relaxation techniques such as deep breathing and focused imagery can lower depression, increase memory, reduce stroke risk, improve judgment and more. Find what works for you. Yoga, meditation, and tai chi are some of many activities that highlight focused relaxation with numerous health benefits. Treat yourself to a massage, listen to soothing music. Whatever it is that gives you peace of mind…your heart will love it, too.