While Valentine’s Day is often celebrated with the exchange of giant teddy bears, red roses or heart-shaped boxes of chocolates; this year we encourage you to share something else: the gift of heart health!
February is Heart Month and we can’t think of a better way to show someone you care than by promoting the health and well-being of their heart.
1. Don’t Smoke
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) states that smoking is the largest cause of avoidable death in the U.S., with 1 in every 5 deaths caused by smoking cigarettes. The chemicals in tobacco can damage how your heart functions, as well as the function and structure of blood vessels.
This increases the risk of atherosclerosis, a condition where plaque builds up in the arteries and reduces the flow of oxygen-rich blood to your organs. Smoking also increases the rigidity of blood vessels, making it more difficult for them to contract and expand, which can eventually lead to heart attack, stroke or angina according to the Heart Foundation.
2. Eat Heart-Healthy Foods
It’s no secret that a healthy diet is good for your overall wellbeing, but which foods exactly are considered “heart healthy”?
The Mayo Clinic advises that eating plant-based foods like fruits and vegetables can help prevent cardiovascular disease and recommends opting for fresh or frozen vegetables, canned vegetables that are low in sodium and fruit packed in water or juice. Eating whole grains such as farro, barley or quinoa as well as high fiber cereal, brown rice and buckwheat can also play a part in regulating heart health.
When it comes to protein, lean meats and fish, eggs and low-fat dairy products are optimal over full fat dairy products and fatty meats. And while the word, “fat,” might scare you – it’s an important component in a heart healthy diet. The monounsaturated fats in olive oil and canola oil and the polyunsaturated fats found in nuts, seeds and avocados may help lower your total blood cholesterol. Just remember that moderation is essential, as all types of fat are high in calories.
3. Make Sure You’re Getting Enough Exercise
Aside from eating healthy foods, another simple way to improve heart health is by incorporating exercise. Exercise strengthens your heart, which helps you pump more blood with each heartbeat, delivering more oxygen to your body. When you have more oxygen, your body can function more efficiently, according to familydoctor.org. Aerobic exercise in particular allows you to breathe more deeply, makes your heart work harder to circulate blood flow and raises your heart rate to burn calories.
4. Hold the Salt
Consuming large amounts of sodium can contribute to high blood pressure and high blood pressure can lead to cardiovascular disease. The American Heart Association recommends healthy adults have no more than about a teaspoon of salt per day (2,300 mg) although ideally adults should have no more than 1,500 mg of salt per day.
According to the Mayo Clinic, reducing the salt you add to food is a good step toward reducing your sodium intake. However, much of the sodium you consume comes from frozen dinners canned soup and even your favorite condiments. If you’re craving soup or a salty condiment, try making your own or looking for a version with lower sodium.
Want to bring up heart health in a fun way this Valentine’s Day? Print out a Chamberlain University heart health Valentine card and get the conversation started!
By Kari Lawrence
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