Hearts, Health and Happiness (and Hope!)

February is Heart Health Month, which explains why I’ve had hearts on my mind as of late (not to mention Valentine’s Day is around the corner). While researching this article, I stumbled upon some alarming statistics.  The CDC reports that heart disease is the leading cause of death for men, women, and people of most racial and ethnic groups in the United States. One person dies every 36 seconds in the United States from cardiovascular disease. About 659,000 people in the US die from heart disease each year – that is 1 in every four deaths. Heart disease has cost the United States about $363 billion from 2016 to 2017. This includes the cost of health care services, medicines, and lost productivity due to death.

These numbers are astounding. The good news is that we can change our lifestyle to reduce our risk and reverse our outcomes. If your genetic makeup predisposes you to heart disease, poor heart health does not have to be your destiny. You can make changes to your daily life choices to improve your outcome.

Avoid Smoking and Tobacco Products. The best thing you can do for your heart health is to quit smoking. Cigarette smoke increases your blood pressure and heart rate, causing your heart to work harder. The good news is that your heart health will begin to improve immediately upon quitting and continue to improve the longer you go without cigarettes and tobacco.

Exercise Regularly. regular exercise is beneficial in preventing heart disease and many chronic illnesses. Your goal should be 30 to 60 minutes of activity daily. If you haven’t exercised in a while, consult your physician, and start slowly. Exercising daily can lower your blood pressure, lower your cholesterol, and prevent type 2 diabetes, all risk factors that contribute to poor heart health. Any activity is beneficial, but if you can work up to more intense workouts, you can see even more significant improvement in your health.

Watch Your Diet – Eat Heart Healthy.  Adding heart-healthy food choices to your daily meal plan can improve your blood pressure, lower your cholesterol, and reduce your risk for heart disease and type 2 diabetes. A diet of vegetables and fruit, lean meat and fish, beans and legumes, healthy grains, and healthy fats will improve your overall health. You should avoid foods high in sugar, salt, and preservatives. It is challenging to make massive changes all at once. Try crowding out your poor food choices with healthier options. Before you know it, your diet will be full of healthy choices.

Maintain a Healthy Weight.  Being overweight can strain your body, increasing your risk for heart disease and other chronic illnesses. A BMI over 25 is considered overweight. Even losing a small amount of weight can be beneficial. And the closer you get to a healthy BMI/Weight, the better.

Get Your Zzzzz’s.  Sleep plays a vital role in your overall physical and mental health. People with chronic sleep deprivation have an increased risk for disease. A good night’s sleep can reduce disease, improve brain function, and manage the stress in your life. To reap the benefits of good night sleep, it is recommended that adults average 7 to 9 hours of sleep per night.

Watch that Stress Level.  Poorly managed stress can result in unhealthy choices such as overeating and a sedentary lifestyle. It is essential to find ways to minimize and manage your stress. Try experimenting with Meditation, Yoga, and increasing activity each day. Take time out of each day to do something you enjoy, just for you. We all get busy and find it difficult to do things just for us, but just 30 minutes per day, doing something you enjoy can improve your mood.

Don’t Delay Your Check-Up! It is essential to visit your doctor regularly and review your health screenings. Many risk factors for heart disease are quietly developing in our bodies. When symptoms finally present themselves, heart disease can already affect our health. Regular health screenings can tell you your numbers and whether action needs to be taken.

The Bottom Line. Embracing a healthy lifestyle at any age can improve your health and reduce your risk for heart disease. You are never too young or old to take care of your heart.