February is associated with Valentine’s Day and hearts, so it is fitting that this month is also American Heart Month. Started in 1963, American Heart Month is designed to bring awareness to our country about heart disease along with education on how to keep the heart healthy. Annually a presidential proclamation is issued in honor of this month. This year, the proclamation cites heart disease as “the leading cause of death in the United States, claiming nearly 700,000 lives a year.”

Heart disease is all around us but there are steps that individuals can take to prevent it. Here are some heart-healthy tips that you can do to help reduce your risk of heart disease. 

Practice Self-Care for Heart-Healthy Living

Self-care – or the act of taking care of your needs – can improve and protect your overall health, including your heart. Often self-care falls low on the list of busy people. If this is the case, schedule your self-care as if it were a doctor or dentist appointment. If you have to cancel the appointment, immediately reschedule it. Self-care can be doing anything that makes you happy – from gardening to going to the spa. These tips, however, are those that will also make your heart feel healthy and happy.

  • Exercise daily for a minimum of 30 minutes. Anything counts – a brisk walk, a sweaty gym class, a yoga session, a family bike ride, and much more.
  • Cook heart-healthy, low-sodium meals that include a variety of non-starchy vegetables, whole grains, and a small amount of lean protein such as chicken, turkey, or fish (4 oz for women; 6 oz for men).
  • Make time for relaxation daily. Some ideas include guided meditation, breathing exercises, a relaxing bath, practicing gratitude, or unwinding with your favorite book or funny movie.
  • Get 7-8 hours of sleep per night.

Be Heart-Smart

Being heart-smart means making choices that are beneficial for a healthy heart. This can include:  

  • Aiming for a healthy weight. Being overweight increases your risk of having heart disease, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, a stroke, and/or diabetes. 
  • Quitting smoking. This can be difficult so ask for help and support from your trusted medical provider, family, and/or friends.
  • Reducing or managing your stress. Have a plan for ways to reduce your stress, especially in situations that may trigger you.
  • Scheduling (and keeping) doctor’s appointments.
  • Keeping track of your health stats: blood pressure, weight, cholesterol, and physical activity.
  • If you’re taking medication – take it as prescribed and know the interactions and side effects.

Give yourself a long-lasting Valentine’s Day gift this year by showing your heart some love and practicing these heart-healthy tips. If you keep at it beyond this month, your heart will healthfully love you back for many years to come! 

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