Do Your Part, Take Care of Your Heart!
Check out these heart-healthy tips that you can implement in your life today, just in time for American Heart Health Month!
Written by: Samra Karamustafic
When you think of February, there are probably a few significant dates that come to mind, like Black History Month or Valentine’s Day. But did you know that February is also American Heart Health Month?
So, while you’re thinking about those conversation hearts to give to that special someone for Valentine’s Day, it’s the perfect time to think about your actual heart, too!
A LITTLE BIT OF BACKGROUND
February was first proclaimed as American Heart Month by President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1963, as a way to raise awareness about heart disease to the public. This heart health movement is meant to encourage Americans to implement healthy habits in order to help reduce their risk of heart disease.
Subsequently, another heart-related campaign kicked off just four decades later: National Wear Red Day. Occurring on the first Friday in February, National Wear Red Day was established by the American Heart Association as a way to raise awareness about heart disease in women, specifically, as it’s the leading cause of death among women in the United States.
WHY DOES THIS MATTER TO ME NOW?
If you’re in your late teens or early 20s reading this, you might be wondering: “Isn’t it a bit too early for me to start thinking about this?” While yes, adults age 65 and older may be more likely to be affected by heart disease than someone in their 20s, it can still impact anyone at any age.
But, the good news is that heart disease isn’t inevitable; there are plenty of tips and steps that you can take to decrease your risk of heart disease. It’s never too early to start implementing habits into your day-to-day routine that can help protect your heart from today through the rest of your life. In fact, the sooner you begin getting into the habit of healthier eating and other wellness practices, the easier it will be for you to continue on that trajectory as you get older.
WAYS TO PROTECT YOUR HEART
Move your body
You probably knew this tip was coming, but it’s the first on the list for a reason! Exercise is crucial when it comes to having a healthy heart. As MedlinePlus explains, exercise helps improve blood circulation, which in turn raises the oxygen levels in your body. Not only does this lower your risk of heart disease, but it can lower blood pressure as well. Life is busy, but try your best to squeeze a little bit of movement into your daily routine. It doesn’t matter if that’s going on a run one day and then cleaning around the house the next. All that matters is that you get your blood pumping for at least a few minutes each day.
Stress is an inevitable part of life – we college students have certainly come to learn that during the last year-and-a-half. But when stress hits the “chronic” stage, that’s when it can become an issue. In fact, the American Heart Association notes that chronic stress can be linked to higher blood pressure, which can increase the risk of a heart attack or stroke. Investing in a few stress management techniques, such as yoga, time in nature or a quick deep-breathing session, can help to lower your stress levels. In turn, lower stress levels can help decrease blood pressure and cholesterol levels, as well as lower inflammation.
Catch up on ZZZ’s
After countless studies and probably a few first-hand experiences, we all most likely know by now the impact that sleep has on our overall health, including our heart. In fact, did you know that poor sleep quality has been linked to not only high blood pressure and elevated cholesterol but poor diet and even diabetes, too? As college students, we’re all bound to experience a few late nights or all-nighters here and there, but that shouldn’t turn into a habitual sleep pattern. On the nights when you find that you can get some extra shuteye, wind down with a good book or some warm chamomile tea before calling it a night. The Cleveland Clinic recommends avoiding screen time before bed, as blue light can make it harder for you to fall asleep.
Back away from the Marlboros
In case you haven’t heard it enough times from the commercials and your elementary school D.A.R.E. program: smoking is not good for you or your heart. As the CDC notes, cigarettes are a major cause of heart disease due to the serious damage that they can do to your heart and blood vessels. Luckily, the earlier you quit, the better off you’ll be. In fact, the FDA states that within just four years of quitting, your risk of stroke drops to that of a lifelong nonsmoker.
Enjoy a heart-healthy diet
A great diet is key when it comes to taking care of all aspects of your health, including your heart. The American Heart Association suggests a diet that consists of heart-healthy food groups, like fruits and vegetables, whole grains, minimally processed foods and healthy sources of protein. These are all foods that you can easily incorporate into your daily diet and won’t break the bank or require an extra special trip to Whole Foods. You can even have a little fun with this by looking up some delicious heart-healthy recipes and treating yourself to some new meals that you may not have tried before!
Several heart-healthy foods that you can incorporate into your diet right now include:
Fresh herbs (cilantro, basil)
Legumes (beans, green peas, edamame)
Berries (strawberries, blueberries, raspberries)
Fatty fish (salmon, tuna)
Nuts (walnuts, peanuts, cashews)
Oatmeal (rolled or steel-cut)
Popcorn (unfortunately not the super salty and buttery kind)
Whole-wheat bread or crackers