American Heart Month is recognized every February to raise awareness of the nation’s number one killer: heart disease. Approximately 697,000 Americans die as a result of this condition every year, a tally that equates to one out of every five deaths.
But there’s an even more shocking statistic: more than 80% of premature heart disease and strokes are preventable.
Here are just five tips to improve your heart health that you can follow every day of the year.
- Get Moving: Exercise is one of the most important things you can do to improve your heart’s health. Studies have shown that regularly engaging in physical activity lowers blood pressure and cholesterol levels, reduces stress, and reduces body fat — all good things! Adults should aim for a minimum of 30 minutes of physical activity per day (even if broken up into small chunks). The more active you are, the stronger your heart will be.
- Make Healthier Choices: Healthy foods help to prevent heart disease and stroke – plain and simple. Whenever possible, opt for lean proteins (chicken, fish, or eggs), fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains and legumes, and low-fat dairy products. Processed foods with added sugars and salt can cause blood pressure levels to spike over time. Keep them to a bare minimum – or avoid them altogether. Aim for three balanced meals per day with two healthy snacks in between.
- Say ‘So Long’ to Cigarettes: Cigarette smoke contains many harmful toxins that damage blood vessels over time contributing to a much higher risk of stroke or heart attack in the future. For smokers, the greatest gift you could give yourself – and your heart – for American Heart Month is to quit. It may not be easy, but it will protect your heart and your life expectancy in the long run. Talk to your doctor about potential strategies such as nicotine replacement therapy or other medications that can help make the process easier for you.
- Cut Back on Alcohol Consumption: Excessive alcohol consumption, too, can lead to high blood pressure and the risk of stroke and heart attack. Remember: moderation is the key! Limit yourself to no more than two drinks per day if you are male – one for females.
- Mitigate Life Stresses: Easier said than done, right? The truth is that stress affects hormones tied to our cardiovascular systems and has been linked to an increased risk of stroke or heart attack as a result. While there’s no single magic cure, there are things you can do to reduce stress in your life. Take some time for yourself each day – read a book, listen to music, or do whatever helps you relax. It might also help to speak with a doctor or a therapist to help manage your stress levels more effectively in the long term.
This February and every month, don’t forget about taking care of your own heart. Show yourself some self-care with these five tips and take comfort in knowing that you are taking steps to improve your heart health for your family and loved ones.