Your Guide to a Healthy, Happy Heart
by Sarah Ban
From the hearts you doodled in your notebook as a love-struck teen to the heart-shaped box of chocolates you get every Valentine’s Day, hearts always make us feel love (and warm and fuzzy). But chances are, most of us don’t actively ask ourselves, “How can I keep my heart feeling loved?” – at least not on a daily basis.
Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the U.S. for both men and women, but you can reduce your chances of getting it with some easy lifestyle changes. And even if you do struggle a bit to incorporate these changes into your life, persistence and patience will pay off hugely in the end. After all, there is truly no greater wealth than your health, and you owe it to yourself to make sure it is as good as it can be. Diet, fitness and proper self-care all play a role in keeping your heart healthy.
Here’s are some of the most simple ways you can start living a heart-friendly life.
Find Your Go-To “Destress & Unwind” Activity
Remember the time when you devoured a jumbo-sized fast-food feast and a tub of ice cream at the end of a particularly nerve-wracking day? It happens, and no one should feel guilty about it. But if you’re chronically weighed down by mental tension, these occasional indulgences may turn into habits—habits that can lead to higher cholesterol and artery damage. Before you even face a stressful day, take a day or two to figure out alternative ways to relieve stress and unwind that don’t only involve reaching for the closest high-fat, high-sugar, processed snack. Meditation is particularly helpful in keeping stress levels low, but you can also rely on regular exercise, yoga, listening to music, taking nature walks, date nights with friends and keeping a journal as effective methods of dissipating stress. Find out what makes you feel good so you can stick to it every time you’re about to pull your hair out.
Get Up, Stand Up!
You might’ve already heard that sitting for prolonged periods of time is harmful to your health, but you might not necessarily realize how detrimental it can be. One study conducted on 7,744 participants found that those who spent 23 hours a week sitting and watching TV were more likely to suffer and pass away due to cardiovascular disease than those who only spent 11 hours doing the same. Their risk was 64% higher, in fact. The solution here is to move as often as you can. If you work in an office, think about converting your desk to a standing one. Take walks during your lunch break, or get up once every hour or so to stretch your legs.
Although abdominal obesity can increase your chances of heart disease, type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure, incorporating healthy fats from sources like nuts, salmon and avocados make your heart beat with joy. When cooking, replace your common cooking oils with coconut oil, which is one of the healthiest oils. It's especially important to avoid trans fats, also called partially hydrogenated fats, which are found in items like margarine and most processed foods. Trans fats have been linked to coronary disease in various studies, and offer no nutritional value. As a bonus, bidding soda and sugary drinks adieu can also help you lose belly fat.
Don't Be Salty
Think twice before picking up that salt shaker. It's imperative to consume very little salt to keep from raising your blood pressure. High blood pressure, if left unchecked, can lead to heart attacks and strokes. Unfortunately, many people may not even be aware that they have high blood pressure. Consuming less sodium can help you keep your blood pressure at normal levels. It is recommended that adults consume no more than 2,300 milligrams of salt a day, which is approximately one teaspoon.
Nurse That Grape Juice
Raise a glass to celebrate—just don’t go overboard! There is some evidence that red wine, in particular, can have heart-healthy benefits. It’s believed that resveratrol, an ingredient in red wine, can reduce low-density lipoprotein, bad cholesterol, inflammation and blood clots. But too much alcohol, whether it's red wine or a martini, can have negative effects on the heart. As they say, drink in moderation.
Snooze Or Lose
Here's a great excuse to get a little extra shut-eye. Sleep is good for a variety of reasons, including stress reduction and weight loss, but it's also been linked to a healthier heart. In fact, studies have shown that risk of heart disease, cancer and stroke were lowest in people who slept about seven to eight hours a day. It was further discovered that people who slept fewer than six hours or more than nine hours were far more likely to have health problems, including higher rates of mortality. If you need help dozing off, try our ultra-soothing Bedtime Stories kit, which includes a lavender relaxing balm and eye mask to whisk you away to Dreamland.
Brush It Off
We mean your teeth of course! Although more research is needed, the Mayo Clinic acknowledges that good oral hygiene can also have a positive impact on heart health. Researchers have found that periodontitis (gum disease) increases the risk of heart disease. This one's easy to take care of, though. Brush twice a day, floss regularly and don't be afraid of visiting the dentist!
Toss the Cigarettes (Electric or Otherwise)
We often think smoking is only linked to problems with the lungs, but tobacco use is also associated with cardiovascular disease. Smoking damages the lining of your arteries, causing them to develop a buildup of fatty material that ultimately makes arteries more narrow, which in turn makes it more difficult for blood to flow freely. Smokers are also twice as likely to die from heart disease than those who have never smoked. Quitting smoking isn't easy, but there are more helpful methods now more than ever. If smoking is a problem for you, take some steps now to ensure you can kick this habit for good.