February is designated as American Heart Month to advocate cardiovascular health and raise awareness about heart disease. “Heart disease” is a catch-all phrase for a variety of conditions that affect the heart’s structure and function. Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States and accounts for more than 800,000 deaths every year. According to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute (NIH), one in three deaths is from cardiovascular disease.
Since everyone has suffered from increased stress from a pandemic over the past 2 years public health officials are concerned there may be a rise in even more deaths from cardiovascular disease. Stress is inevitable, however, how you respond to it can make a difference. Stress causes reactions in your body such as increased heart rate and narrowing in your blood vessels. Stress can also lead to overeating, making poor food choice, and weight gain. Research shows that stress can increase our risks of heart disease and heart attacks. Healthy ways to manage stress could include meditation, reading a book, watching a funny movie, or exercise. Exercise has shown to increase the production of endorphins which reduces the negative effects of stress. Any type of activity can help your heart. The benefits of exercise include:
- Improving blood flow
- Protection to your heart (even if you have heart disease)
- Lower blood pressure
- Lower cholesterol levels
- Improves your stamina and ability to cope with stress
Hypertension is also one of the leading risk factors for heart disease and stroke. According to the CDC, 1 in 2 U.S adults have hypertension and only 1 in 4 have it under control. Several lifestyle changes such as healthy diet modifications, limiting the amount of sodium consumed, and regular physical activity have shown to have a positive impact on hypertension. No matter your age, there are many things you can do to protect yourself from cardiovascular disease. The NIH recommends the following items
- Control blood pressure, cholesterol, and hemoglobin A1C levels
- Reduce sodium in your diet
- Increase intake of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains
- Be physically active
- Maintain a healthy weight
- Stop smoking
- Manage stress
Heart healthy diet switches can include:
- Snack on fruits and vegetables when hunger hits
- Use herbs for flavor instead of salt
- Choose lean cuts of meat and remove visible fat. Remove skin and fat from poultry.
- Make half your plate fruits and vegetables at meals.
- Eat less processed meats, sweetened drinks, desserts, and refined grains
- Pay attention to your body’s hunger and fullness signals.
Combining healthy eating habits with other self-care activities can help reduce stress and improve heart health. Moving more throughout the day, reducing stress with relaxation exercises such as meditation or yoga, and eating a nutritious diet all play a part in improving heart heath. Remember to take any small steps to improve your heart each day.
National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, www.nhlbi.nih.gov
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, https://www.cdc.gov/heartdisease/american_heart_month.htm