February is Heart Month. Time to scrutinize your habits and align them with a heart-healthy lifestyle. Heart healthy lifestyle changes made during the year’s shortest month can deliver long-term dividends. Some important areas that influence heart-health include diet, movement, stress levels, and existing health conditions.
Eating a nutritious diet helps keep your heart healthy and maintain a healthy weight. It also decreases the production of harmful LDL cholesterol that creates plaque, inhibits blood flow and may lead to a cholesterol-related stroke.
Translated into everyday life, a heart-healthy diet emphasizes fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains including whole wheat cereals, breads and other whole grains, limited quantities of dried fruits (raisins, apricots, prunes, etc. and nuts); low-fat or non-fat dairy products (yogurt, hard and soft cheese, and butter substitutes); broiled or grilled skinless chicken and fish; and limited quantities of beef and pork. Due to their generally high fat and salt content, go lightly on processed foods like luncheon meats, fast-food burgers and hot dogs, fries and chips. Instead, substitute bite-sized veggies like carrots, broccoli and cauliflower dipped in low-salt salsas. And don’t forget plenty of crunchy salads, minus the high-fat dressings.
Consider your lifestyle. Are you a go-go, anxious Type A personality or a laid-back type? Studies show that stress-inducing situations cause elevated blood pressure. Ditto smoking, drug addiction and excessive alcohol intake. This is especially important if you have pre-existing conditions like high blood pressure, diabetes, or heart problems like atrial fibrillation.
Diabetes exemplifies how one health condition presages poor circulation, high blood pressure or other heart-related issues. As these conditions develop, the risk for heart disease escalates. Upwards of 65 percent of people with diabetes die from either heart disease or stroke.
Along with its Delta and Omicron variants, the COVID-19 pandemic has injected yet another anxiety-producing situation to our already stress-filled life. Getting fully vaccinated, staying socially distanced, avoiding large gatherings and wearing a recommended mask contributes to your overall well-being and heart health.
Identify stress-inducing situations and implement avoidance or coping strategies. If you have a meeting or a plane that requires travel on a traffic-heavy highway, leave 30 minutes earlier. Drive the route to an interview in an unfamiliar location the day before. Always leave some buffer time for an unexpected emergency like a flat tire or a last-minute change in plans.
For optimum circulation, balance and overall health keep moving. Weather cold? Walk in the mall with a friend. Don’t like the outdoors? Take up golf, join the “Y” or a health club. Prefer being at home? Invest in a new or used rowing machine, exercise bike or elliptical machine.
Implementing a series of small modifications in February and sticking with them throughout the year guarantees big benefits later.