With Valentine’s Day coming up soon, you may have hearts on your mind—but there’s another reason to give some love to hearts this time of year: February is American Heart Month. The second month of the year was designated as American Heart Month in late 1963 by President Lyndon B. Johnson. At that time, more than half the deaths in the U.S. were caused by cardiovascular disease, according to the American Heart Association (AHA).
Fast forward to today, and cardiovascular disease is still the leading cause of death around the world, with more than 17.9 million deaths every year. That includes deaths from heart disease and stroke. That number will increase to 23.6 million by 2030, the American Heart Association reports.
Despite the grim statistics, the good news is that you have control over many of the factors that can cause heart disease. Here are 5 ways to focus on your heart health this month and beyond.
- Watch your blood pressure. High blood pressure makes it harder for your heart to work properly. Get your blood pressure checked at least once a year if you’re over the age of 40 and every 3 to 5 years up to age 39, WebMD recommends. If you have high blood pressure, cut back on highly processed foods (the sodium in many processed foods can raise your blood pressure), monitor your stress and follow any advice from your doctor on medications to take to lower your blood pressure.
- Get in the exercise habit. If there’s one piece of advice doctors consistently have to improve heart health and overall health, it’s to get moving more. Regular physical activity will help your whole body but especially help protect your heart. The current physical activity recommendation for most people is 150 minutes a week, which breaks down to 30 minutes a day, 5 times a week. The good news is that you don’t have to do a marathon exercise session. For instance, if your best option is to take a brisk 10-minute walk after each meal—for a total of 30 minutes—then that’s also a great choice.
- Find ways to quit smoking. You’ve probably heard this one before, so we won’t overstate it. Bottom line, smoking can wreak havoc on your heart health. If you’re struggling to quit, reach out to health professionals who can help.
- Stress less, sleep more. The more you can get quality sleep every night, the better it is for your heart health. Most people need 7 to 8 hours of sleep daily. If you think you’re too busy to fit that in, then reexamine your schedule. Make sleep a higher priority. If it’s stress that keeps you up at night, seek out help to better manage your stress.
- Emphasize healthier food choices. A healthier diet is key to keeping your heart in tip-top shape. The AHA recommends that a heart-healthy diet should focus on the following:
- fruits and vegetables
- whole grains
- low-fat dairy products
- skinless poultry and fish
- nuts and legumes
- non-tropical vegetable oils
“Limit saturated fat, trans fat, sodium, red meat, sweets, and sugar-sweetened beverages,” the American Heart Association recommends. “If you choose to eat red meat, compare labels and select the leanest cuts available.” Talk to your
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