February is American Heart Month, which is an excellent time to remind ourselves to take care of our hearts, which is especially important considering that heart disease is the leading cause of death for men and women in the United States. In fact, according to the CDC, 1 in 4 deaths are caused by heart disease every year, and every year about 735,000 Americans have a heart attack. But! The news isn’t all bad. It’s never too early to start taking better care of your heart, so here’s a list of seven simple lifestyle changes you can make, starting today, for better heart health.
- No smoking. It’s 2016 and knowing what we know about their harmful effects, you’re still smoking cigarettes? Yuck! Now is the time to quit. In addition to cancer, infertility and a host of other horrible health conditions, smoking can damage your entire cardiovascular system and lead to peripheral artery disease (plague buildup in the arteries that carry blood to your head, organs and limbs), blood clots and stroke. Also, exposure to secondhand smoke increases a person’s risk of stroke, heart attack and coronary heart disease, so do yourself and those around you a favor, and quit.
- Limit alcohol intake. I know, I know, you’ve heard this one before, but excessive alcohol drinking can raise blood pressure, increase cardiomyopathy (diseases of the heart muscle), stroke and other diseases. It can also contribute to high triglycerides and produce irregular heartbeats. If you’re a drinker, the American Heart Association recommends that you limit your alcohol consumption to no more than two drinks per day for men and no more than one drink per day for women.
- Make better food choices. A healthy diet is good for you, no matter the reason. This doesn’t mean that you need to cut out all indulgences from your diet – cupcake, anyone? –, but you should be following a relatively healthy diet to fight cardiovascular disease, and improve your overall health. Choose nutrient-rich foods, which have vitamins, minerals, fiber and other nutrients, but are lower in calories, as well as lots of vegetables, fruits and whole grains, such as KAMUT® brand khorasan wheat. KAMUT® is organic, non-GMO and has never been modified or altered in any way. It is high in fiber, protein and lipids, and offers higher amounts of nutrients compared to modern wheat, including a high content of antioxidants, which neutralizes body-wide inflammation that has been linked to heart disease. Also good for you? Low-fat dairy, poultry, fish, legumes, non-tropical vegetable oils and nuts. Limit your intake of sweets, sugar-sweetened beverages, red meats, and foods high in sodium.
- Regularly exercise. As little as 10 minutes of exercise a day has some health benefits and will keep you living longer. However, if you’re feeling really ambitious, research has shown that moderate-vigorous exercising three or four days a week for about 40 minutes each time, can help lower your blood pressure and cholesterol, and help you maintain a healthy weight. So whether you like to hit the gym, take a spinning class or go running with a friend, just get moving!
- Maintain a healthy weight. More than one third of U.S. adults are obese, which is a problem, considering that obesity can lead to high blood pressure, coronary artery disease, coronary vascular disease, heart attack and stroke. If you need more motivation to start hitting the gym and tweaking your diet, this is it.
- Reduce stress. I know, easier said than done, but when you get stressed out your body releases adrenaline that causes your heart rate to speed up and your blood pressure to rise, and constant or continuous stress can be harmful to your heart, so it’s important to find a way to keep your stress in check. Everyone has their own ways of dealing with stress, but some PG ones include yoga, meditation, walking or running outside, or hugging it out. Find the method that works for you and practice it the next time you’re feeling stressed.
- Get your Zzzzs. According to a 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. Also, another study showed that insomnia could moderately raise your heart attack risk. In conclusion, the better night’s sleep you get, the healthier your heart will be, so turn off the Netflix and go to sleep.