We’re kicking off Heart Health Awareness Month with insights, tips, and advice for a healthier heart.
February is Heart Health Awareness Month. And for good reason. Of all the diseases and ailments that plague humans, cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death across the world. And it’s showing no signs of slowing down. Consider this: in 2017 alone, cardiovascular disease was responsible for one out of every three deaths in the United States. It kills nearly 18 million people a year globally. It’s clear that we aren’t taking care of that most important of muscles.
In honor of Heart Health Awareness Month, we’re putting some extra focus into what makes a happier, healthier heart. Because when it comes to heart health, mere exercise isn’t enough. A lot more goes into it, from what we eat and the amount of sleep we get, to (believe it or not) our oral health. It’s all connected.
Let’s look at four new practices we can all start (or continue) this month to promote a healthier heart for the rest of our lives.
Start a Heart-Healthy Diet
Heart health has a lot to do with what we eat. Take fiber, for example. Unfortunately, most Americans are chronically fiber deficient. But fiber comes with many benefits, including several that are good for the heart.
Soluble fiber sources that include barley, oatmeal, beans, nuts, and fruits such as apples, berries, citrus fruits, and pears have been linked to heart health—and this stems from fiber’s ability to lower both blood pressure and cholesterol. Fiber also fills us up, so we eat less. This could lead to better weight management.
Fiber isn’t the only nutrient that’s good for the heart, though. Eating fish might even be better. That’s because some fish contains fatty acids called omega 3s. Omega-3 fatty acids are a type of unsaturated fatty acid that may reduce inflammation throughout the body. Inflammation in the body can damage your blood vessels and lead to heart disease and strokes. Your body can’t produce its own omega-3s, so a diet supplemented with omega 3s––whether that’s a couple servings of fish a week, or a high-quality supplement––can go a long way to improving cardiovascular health.
Additionally, a diet rich in antioxidants has been shown to reduce the risk of heart disease. Antioxidants found in berries, nuts, and vegetables effectively combat the free radicals and corresponding oxidative stress that can damage blood vessels and hinder blood flow. By strengthening cells and reducing inflammation, antioxidants have been shown to reduce the risk of developing heart disease.
CoQ10 is another under-the-radar, heart-healthy nutrient. The heart is a muscle. And like most muscles, it needs power, and lots of it. Coenzyme Q10, also known as CoQ10, is a compound that helps generate energy in our cells. That energy, in turn, helps the heart pump blood through over 60,000 miles of vessels, arteries, veins, and capillaries throughout the body. We produce CoQ10 naturally, but because production decreases as we age, it’s a good idea to add it as a supplement or through foods like organ meats, fatty fish, vegetables, or fruit.
Get Plenty of Sleep
Getting 7-9 hours of sleep a night does more than deliver more energy and focus for the next day. Studies show that the more we can consistently get the right amount of sleep, the healthier our hearts may be.
Sleep is when our bodies repair themselves, from head to toe to––you guessed it––heart. During normal sleep, blood pressure goes down. Spend less time sleeping, and blood pressure spends more time in a higher range. Recent studies also show that more sleep can lower blood sugar levels, reducing the risk for type 2 diabetes. Additionally, not getting enough sleep may negatively impact the parts of our brain that control hunger, leading us to eat more and gain weight. The moral here: treat your heart right with a good night’s rest.
Take Care of Your Teeth
Studies have shown that gum disease is associated with increased risk of developing heart disease. And poor dental health also increases the risk of bacterial infection in the blood stream, which may impact the heart valves. To make sure our teeth (and hearts) stay in tip-top shape, schedule biannual cleanings, brush twice a day, and floss just as often. It’s also a good idea to lay off the sugar––which comes with additional heart benefits as well.
Exercise Like Your Life Depends on It
Being physically active pays big dividends towards good heart health. Regular exercise does more than strengthen the heart. It keeps weight under control while also warding off artery damage. A good regimen should consist of 30 minutes of exercise daily, 5 days a week. While aerobic exercises like jogging get recognition when it comes to heart health, don’t overlook anaerobic exercises as well. Activities like weight or resistance training can trim fat and create leaner muscle. Plus, an exercise program that combines both aerobic and anaerobic activities may help raise HDL (good) cholesterol and lower LDL (bad) cholesterol.
While Heart Health Awareness Month may only last 30 days, let it serve as a start to a lifestyle that promotes good cardiovascular health. Let’s use this month to look at our diets, habits, and routines. Let’s cut out the stuff that’s not good for us and add heart health back into our lives. Our future selves will thank us.