Hearts are neat things, right? I mean, they pump all of our blood through our bodies, which is good because we need blood to live.
All joking aside, our hearts are important and February is American Heart Month. Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States. In fact, the Center for Disease Control estimates that 1 in 4 American adults will die as a result of heart disease. To many of us that statistic is terrifying and you might be thinking, "What can I do to improve my heart health?".
The simple answer is diet and exercise.
Eating well can go a long way to improving your heart health. You may have heard the term “heart healthy” but what exactly does that mean? Eating heart healthy means eating a well-rounded diet of foods that have been proven to improve cardiovascular health while avoiding foods that are less than optimal.
Heart healthy foods like fresh fruits and vegetables are packed with fiber, antioxidants and vitamins that are heart healthy. Unprocessed whole grains, like whole oats, quinoa and plain wild rice, provide much-needed fiber to improve cardiovascular health. Additionally foods rich in Omega-3 fatty acids can boost your overall heart health. Fishes like tuna and sardines are very high in Omega-3s. Try walnuts, almonds and chia seeds for a meat-free Omega-3 boost.
Eating well is just the first step to improved heart heath. The next factor in maintaining a healthy heart is exercise. The American Heart Association recommends at least thirty minutes of moderate intensity exercise five time a week. Exercise doesn’t have to be tough. Moderate exercises can include biking, playing sports, climbing stairs or swimming. One of the easiest ways to get in your 30 minutes is to engage in walking. Walking is free, doesn’t require specialty equipment and can be a relaxing solo experience, or invite a friend on your walk and catch up!
One of the easiest, but toughest, things a person can do to improve their heart health is to quit smoking. If you don’t smoke now, please don’t start. Tobacco use has been linked to diminished cardiovascular health in study after study. The Center for Disease Control states that one in three deaths related to cardiovascular disease is linked to tobacco use.
Smoking raises triglycerides (a type of fat in blood) while lowering HDL, or “good” cholesterol. It also makes blood “stickier” which causes the blood to be more likely to clot, and as a result can block blood flow to the brain and heart. Additionally, smoking leads to damage to cells that line the blood vessels, causes thickening and narrowing of the blood vessels and increases the buildup of plague (cholesterol, fat, calcium and other substances) in blood vessels.
Quitting smoking now will greatly improve your overall health and heart health in particular. Quitting is never easy, but there are resources to help. Quitnow.net, run by the American Cancer Society is a free resource to help people who are tobacco defendant quit for good. Calling 1-800-QUIT-NOW will connect smokers wishing to quit with a counselor who can help you quit smoking and stay tobacco free.
As always, please consult with your doctor before changing your diet or exercise routine.