What is the first thing that comes to mind when someone says February? Is it cupid? A cute little groundhog predicting our weather for the next 6 weeks? As a nurse, my first thought is often that February is American Heart Month, a month that tries to bring increased awareness to heart disease and stroke. Now we all know the importance of keeping our heart healthy, but what are some ways that we can keep our ticker in tip-top shape?
It’s OK to follow your heart,
but take your brain with you.
1. Know your risk factors. While some major risk factors cannot be changed, such as increasing age, being male, going through menopause or hereditary disease, others can be altered. These include stress levels, smoking or alcohol intake, hypertension, obesity, lack of physical activity, poor sleep hygiene, diabetes, poor nutrition or high cholesterol.
2. An apple a day. A diet high in saturated fats, sodium and cholesterol contribute to heart disease. Many physicians promote following the Mediterranean diet to improve over-all health, and includes things such as fish, whole grains and olive oil in exchange for vegetable oils. The DASH diet is also popular among physicians and stands for a Dietary Approach to Stop Hypertension. It includes fruit, vegetables, whole grains and lean proteins, as well finding flavorful alternatives to adding salt to meals.
3. Get up and move! Even something as simple as taking a walk can reduce your risk of heart disease. Start a walking club with friends and family, as long as you can adhere to current social distancing practices. As an added bonus, exercise can also boost your immunity in the winter months.
4. Schedule some “me time.” Focusing on things that make you happy can decrease stress levels, improve productivity, and relieve physical ailments. Create a cozy space, snuggle your pets, or unplug from social media to give your mind a chance to reset.
5. Be grateful. Every day is a gift, regardless of how difficult it may feel at times, especially now. Give yourself a pat on the back for things you have accomplished today, even if it is as small a task as putting the laundry away. Tell your spouse, friend, or co-worker that you appreciate having them in your life.
6. Practice good sleep hygiene. This includes maintaining a routine sleep schedule, avoiding daytime naps, not using laptops/tablets or cell phones in bed, and creating a quiet, calming space to rest in.
7. Trust the professionals. Most importantly, follow the guidelines provided by your primary care doctor and consult him/her before starting any new diets or exercise programs, and comply with any prescribed medications.
For more information regarding heart disease, exercise and diet please visit the American Heart Association website American Heart Association | To be a relentless force for a world of longer, healthier lives