When you think of February, what is the first thing that comes to mind?
If your answer is Valentine’s Day, we’ve got something in common. It’s a special month because extending beyond the one day filled with heart-shaped candies – we have the entire month to celebrate our hearts. February is Heart Month! Our hearts keep us going one beat at a time for our whole lives, the least we can do is spend a full 28 days celebrating it.
Of course, we have all year to make heart-healthy choices, but this month is the perfect time to put some of those heart-healthy practices into action. Depending on your lifestyle and personal risk factors, different choices may have a bigger impact on the health of your heart. However, let’s look at four easy things that all of us can do today to give our hearts a little bit of love.
Regular Exercise. Daily exercise is one of the single best things you can do for your heart and your body. According to the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, most adults should strive to get at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise per week, 75 minutes of vigorous exercise per week, or a combination of both. At first glance, you might think spending that much time exercising is unrealistic or unattainable. Once we break it down to 30 minutes of moderate exercise, 5 days per week, it becomes much more manageable. It may take time to build up to that total weekly duration, but let’s keep our focus on today.
If you are struggling to maintain a regular exercise routine, challenge yourself to lace up your sneakers and go for a 15-minute walk. You can bundle up and brave the weather, or you walk the perimeter of your local home improvement store. The choice is yours- just do something!
Get a Good Night’s Sleep. It may not look like it, but our bodies are quite busy while we’re sleeping. Vital tasks that influence health and overall functioning occur during sleep. Because poor sleep can increase cardiac risk factors such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes, it is important to make sleep a priority for your heart. If you struggle to get a good night’s sleep, consider your bedtime routine.
Are there activities you can do to mentally prepare yourself for sleep? For example, read a chapter of a book, drink a warm cup of herbal tea, and brush your teeth. Consider what you would like to incorporate into a bedtime routine and start it today. Before you know it, following a heart-healthy sleep routine will become second nature.
Eat Your Fruits and Veggies. It’s nearly impossible to eat too many fruits and vegetables. They are packed with water, fiber, and nutrients. They add flavor and color to meals. As you examine your plate, where can you add more of these beneficial fruits and veggies? Pick a few that you are guaranteed to enjoy and add them to your meals today.
Add a serving of berries with breakfast. Drizzle some vinegar over a mix of tomato, cucumber, and red onion to complement your standard lunch. Pair a banana with the crackers you already eat as a snack. Add a side of roasted broccoli to the dinner table. Choose what you enjoy, even if traditionally it doesn’t “go with” your meal. Your heart will thank you!
Reduce Your Stress. We’ve been living in a pandemic for almost 2 years now. Even those of us who manage our stress well are dealing with a baseline level of “fight or flight.” As a result, our blood pressure and heart rates increase, our muscles get tense, and we’re more likely to feel irritable and withdrawn. Over time, all of these stress reactions can seriously impact our heart health. There are many ways to counter this stress response – yoga, meditation, and mindfulness activities to name a few.
One easy thing you can do today is a simple breathing exercise. In fact, try it out right now! Breathe in through your nose for 4 counts. Exhale with pursed lips for 8 counts. Repeat 5 times. In just one minute, you can reduce your stress level!
Heart Month may only last 28 days, but there’s no need to stop these heart-healthy behaviors once the month is over. Throughout the year, take advantage of every opportunity to make healthy choices. No action is too small!