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Valentine’s Day may be behind us, but we still have time this month to turn Cupid’s arrows to the rhythmic beat that sustains our very existence — our heartbeat. February marks Heart Health Month, a time dedicated to raising awareness about cardiovascular well-being and fostering a deeper understanding of the steps we can take to ensure our hearts continue to beat strong and steady. For 2024 specifically, the spotlight is on women’s heart health. “This Heart Month, the Division for Heart Disease and Stroke Prevention (DHDSP) is encouraging women to listen to their hearts and speak up for their health,” reports the U.S. CDC. “Women in the United States are experiencing unacceptable and avoidable heart-related illness and death, and nearly half of U.S. women do not recognize that heart disease is the leading cause of death for women.”

In this month of red and rosy sentiments, let’s paint a different shade of love—a hue that reflects our commitment to heart health. Join us on a journey through the corridors of cardiovascular well-being as we explore the latest insights, practical tips, and inspiring strategies to boost your heart health. Whether you’re a fitness enthusiast, a culinary adventurer, or someone seeking a little extra motivation, there’s something here for everyone.

Why Does Heart Health Matter This February?

The CDC points to some startling statistics on why not only women, but all of us of all ages and backgrounds, should care about our heart health:

  • It’s the #1 leading cause of death for literally everyone, no matter your ethnicity, race, age or gender (1 in 5 deaths is associated to heart disease)
  • Approximately two people pass away from poor heart health every single minute
  • Heart disease costs the medical system nearly $240 billion a year

Maintaining a healthy heart is foundational for your overall well-being, and lifestyle choices play a significant role in cardiovascular health. Starting today, let’s embrace the theme of the month and dial in our heart health strategies.

How Can You Improve Your Cardiovascular Health?

Exercise remains the top preventative measure against heart disease, report numerous studies. “[Aim for] a minimum of 150 minutes per week for optimal heart health benefits,” recommends the Mayo Clinic. Alternatively, strive for 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic exercise per week.

Include activities that elevate your heart rate, such as brisk walking, jogging, cycling, swimming, or dancing. Strength training exercises at least twice a week can also contribute to heart health by improving overall fitness. If you need more exercise guidance, check out our Pillars of Self-Care article on working out.

But working out isn’t the only thing you can do!

1. Eat a Heart-Healthy Diet

heart health“Up to 80% of premature heart disease and stroke can be prevented through your life habits, such as eating a healthy diet,” points out the Heart & Stroke Foundation.

Adopt a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats, while also limiting saturated and trans fats, high levels of sodium, and added sugars. Heart-healthy fats include those found in avocados, nuts, seeds, and olive oil.

 

2. Maintain a Healthy Weight

Aim for a body mass index (BMI) within the recommended range. Losing excess weight, even a modest amount, can significantly improve heart health.

3. Quit Smoking and Alcohol

Smoking is a major risk factor for heart disease. Quitting smoking can rapidly reduce the risk of heart-related problems.

The same is true for drinking. If you drink alcohol, do so in moderation. For most adults, this means up to one drink per day for women and up to two drinks per day for men.

4. Ease Your Stress

Chronic stress can contribute to heart disease. Practice stress-reducing techniques like deep breathing, meditation, yoga, or hobbies to promote relaxation.

That includes sleep! Aim for 7-9 hours of quality sleep per night. Poor sleep can contribute to hypertension and other cardiovascular issues.

Feeling stressed? We have numerous articles on ways to ease your stress in our stress archives!

5. Get Regular Health Check-Ups

heart healthMonitor your blood pressure, cholesterol levels, and blood sugar regularly. Manage these factors to keep your heart healthy.

If you have concerns about your heart health, communicate openly with your doctor to address your worries and receive appropriate guidance. Here are some questions you might consider asking your doctor:

  • What is my current risk for heart disease based on factors such as family history, lifestyle, and medical history?
  • Can you help me understand my cholesterol levels, blood pressure, and other relevant indicators?
  • What symptoms should I be aware of that could indicate potential heart issues?
  • Are there specific signs or symptoms that I might be overlooking or misinterpreting?
  • Are there specific tests or screenings that you recommend for assessing my heart health, and how often should I undergo these tests based on my risk factors?

Working collaboratively with your healthcare provider will help you develop a comprehensive plan for maintaining or improving your heart health.

6. Consider Fasting

Fasting has many potential benefits for cardiovascular health. For example, research suggests that intermittent fasting may have some positive effects. Fasting can help in weight management, improving insulin sensitivity, and reducing inflammation, which are all factors that influence heart health.

Maintaining a healthy heart involves a combination of lifestyle choices, and there is no one-size-fits-all approach. Your individual needs and conditions vary, so consult with your healthcare professionals for personalized advice based on your specific health status, age, and lifestyle.

References:

  • https://www.cdc.gov/heartdisease/american_heart_month.htm
  • https://www.cdc.gov/heartdisease/facts.htm
  • https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6172294/
  • https://newsnetwork.mayoclinic.org/discussion/mayo-clinic-minute-is-your-exercise-program-heart-healthy
  • https://www.heartandstroke.ca/healthy-living/healthy-eating
  • https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6471315/