The adage that says, “Your health is your true wealth” cannot be more applicable to your heart. The heart pumps blood, which delivers oxygen and nutrients to the rest of the body. If the heart is not able to supply blood to the organs and tissues, they’ll die; therefore, the heart is one of the most vital organs to human life. Keeping your heart healthy consists of incorporating healthy habits into your lifestyle.
American Heart Month: Raising Awareness about Heart Disease
February is American Heart Month. The first American Heart Month, which took place in February of 1964, was proclaimed by President Lyndon B. Johnson on December 30th, 1963. Its objective is to make Americans realize the significance of their hearts, promote heart health, and raise awareness of heart disease.
Heart disease is the leading cause of death worldwide. More than 17 million people worldwide die of cardiovascular each year. Due to a lack of health education, stress, inadequate nutrition, and lack of exercise, the number of cardiovascular disease deaths is expected to increase to almost 24 million people worldwide each year by 2030.
In the United States of America alone, cardiovascular accounts for 25 percent of deaths each year, making it the leading cause of death for men and women. Almost half of the American population has at least one risk factor for cardiovascular disease (e.g. high blood pressure, high cholesterol, stress, lack of exercise, inadequate amount of sleep, poor diet, and being overweight).
How to Maintain Heart Health and Live a Long, Happy Life
1. Eat a Healthy Diet
- Saturated fats, trans fats, sodium, and cholesterol are the primary culprits in heart disease. The saturated fats problem can easily be solved by swapping out full-fat dairy and fatty meats (e.g. beef) for low-fat or nonfat dairy and leaner cut meats (e.g. chicken or turkey).
- Cutting out processed foods is the best way to avoid trans fats, which contribute to high cholesterol. Trans fats appear on nutrition labels as “hydrogenated” or “partially-hydrogenated” ingredients.
- Sodium is simply salt. Unfortunately, many of your favorite dishes may use salt. If you find that low-salt foods taste bland, dried herbs and spices (e.g. basil and parsley) are a delicious and healthier substitute.
- Cholesterol is prevalent in animal products (e.g. meat, dairy, and eggs). While animal products are rich in protein, they can quickly increase your cholesterol.
Eating a balanced diet is important for reducing your risk of heart disease and improving quality of life. If you are a muscle builder or are simply looking to add more protein to your diet, eat more legumes, nuts, and seeds for plant-based protein. Incorporating sweet fruits and savory vegetables in your diet is key to adding essential vitamins and minerals that your body needs to work properly. Don’t love veggies? Add dried herbs and spices or sauté them in olive oil for extra flavor. When vegetables are well-prepared, they taste great and provide important nutrients. To ensure that your diet is balanced, you call follow the My Plate.
2. Incorporate Exercise into Your Schedule
Exercise is vital to heart health because it conditions the heart and reduces fat build-up, which puts weight on the heart. Aerobic exercises (e.g. walking, running, tread mill, elliptical, stepper, bike riding, swimming, and jumping rope) are the best for the heart because they gently increase heart rate and accelerate fat burn. In addition to vigorous exercise, yoga is also beneficial because it promotes relaxation, strengthening, and flexibility.
The dilemma that many people face is incorporating exercise into their schedule. You can easily incorporate exercise into your daily routine by taking the stairs instead of the elevator or parking farther away in parking lots. The goal is to have a total of thirty minutes of physical exercise per day, but fitness guru Denise Austin says twelve minutes is the minimum daily requirement. Even if you can only allot 10 minutes of exercise at a time, schedule it. Every little bit adds up.
3. Reduce Stress
Stress takes a major toll on your heart because it causes it to overexert itself. You can reduce stress by taking time to relax each day, not working excessively, and avoiding high-stress situations. Studies have shown that taking vacations reduce the risk of heart problems due to stress reduction, quality sleep, and improved productivity. If you have the means to go on a vacation, take advantage of it by trying to go on at least one five-day vacation each year.
Your mental health is also very important. Just as you take care of your body by exercising and eating healthy, you should do things to protect your mental health.
Your health should come before all priorities. If you are not up to par with your health, you will not be effective in other areas. The bills may not get paid; the schoolwork won’t get done; the household chores will be forgotten; and your relationships may suffer; therefore, you must put yourself and your health first.
4. Get Enough Sleep
The recommended amount of sleep for adults is seven to nine hours. Sleep is vital to your health because it helps you relax, recharges your body with energy, and helps your brain consolidate information. If you are having trouble sleeping, you can try at-home remedies (e.g. aroma therapy, chamomile tea, melatonin, etc.). If at-home remedies do not work, consult with a physician.
5. Quit Smoking
Tar, nicotine, and other harsh chemicals in traditional and electronic cigarettes are dangerous and unhealthy. Though difficult in the short-term, quitting smoking will be beneficial in the long-term.
6. Visit Doctors Regularly
Going for regular well-visits with your primary physician and specialists is important because it keeps open the lines of communication about your health habits. Going for well-visits will help you know about areas that you need to improve in and signs you should look out for. Early detection of health problems will make treatment easier, shorter, and more effective.
7. Take Prescribed Medications
If you are taking medications, especially if it is for high blood pressure and cholesterol, it is important that you take them as prescribed to avoid further health complications.