February is Heart Health Awareness Month
It shouldn’t be news to any of us that taking good care of our heart is important. Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in the United States, according to the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention. We all know that losing weight, quitting smoking, cutting back on salt and exercising are good for our heart, but there are many other ways to improve your heart health as well, as many of them are pretty easy. Here are five ways to improve your heart health:
1. Adding heart healthy foods to your diet is great way to protect your heart and change your eating habits for the better. Some heart healthy foods include dark chocolate, salmon, olive oil, oatmeal, black or kidney beans, almonds, walnuts, tuna, tofu, brown rice, soy milk, blueberries, carrots, spinach, broccoli, sweet potato, red bell peppers, asparagus, oranges, tomatoes, acorn squash, cantaloupe, papaya and tea. WebMD and Dr. Oz’s website both have great tips and recipes for preparing heart healthy meals. There is a great recipe for salmon in this edition of the Mallory Minute [Heart Healthy Power Dish].
2. Listening to music has been shown to lower your blood pressure. If you work out to music, however, you know that not all music is created equal. A song with a driving, fast paced beat is great for amping up your workout, but to lower your blood pressure, music with a slower tempo is needed. Classical, jazz, easy listening, slow jams, or any music that is doesn’t get you too worked up. An added bonus is that listening to music is also linked to boosts in creativity and productivity.
3. Spending time with the ones you love is a great way to lower your blood pressure and improve heart health. The link between love and the heart is not just for poetry. When we spend time with people we love, our body produces oxcytocin which has many benefits to the body, and the heart in particular. Physical contact is also good for us, so go in for the hug next time you are with someone you love.
4. According to the American Heart Association, laughter is good for your heart. It could be as simple as doing something that makes you happy reduces stress and improves your heart health, but some research shows that there could be more to the connection. “The risk of heart disease increases in depressed post-menopausal women, Dr. Steinbaum said. She pointed to research indicating people with heart disease are 40 percent less likely to laugh than people without it.” The effects of laughter have also been shown to last for up to 24 hours, so add a little comedy to your dvr this winter!
5. The American Heart Association also recommends reducing stress as a way to take better care of your heart. Many of us know that stress is, literally, a killer, but what can we do to reduce our daily stress? Try these four simple things and you will find that you have lowered your stress levels and feel more in control of your life:
- Positive self-talk – Be kind to yourself! For example, instead of saying, “I can’t do this,” say, “I’ll do the best I can.” We are our own worst enemy, but that means we can also be our best friend.
- Emergency stress-stoppers – Develop a technique for stopping stress when you feel it setting in. Drive in the slow lane, leave early to avoid the stress of being late, count to ten, go for a walk, breathe deeply, smell a rose, say hi to a neighbor or look at a picture of a kitten – whatever it is that will trigger positive feelings and help you control your stress response.
- Have fun – Do something every day that gives you pleasure. It could be playing with your dog, talking to a friend or loved one, painting or enjoying a show and a piece of chocolate at the end of a long day. Give yourself permission to have a little bit of joy in every day.
- Daily Relaxation – setting aside 10 minutes a day to focus on relaxation and breathing can have huge health benefits. It might be something you do after work, before heading home, before bed or first thing in the morning. The act of being mindful of your need to relax each day is beneficial in itself.