February is the LOVE month. A time to celebrate those we love.
I still remember the excitement of putting those tiny pink and red valentines into everyone’s hand made heart shaped baskets at school. It made my heart feel good.
All that giving and receiving of love is yummy.
But somewhere along the way some of us forget to love ourselves.
To take care of our own precious heart.
And that shows up in the staggering statistics around heart disease. Every seven minutes in Canada someone dies of heart disease or stroke. And if that isn’t enough to make your heart hurt, nine in 10 Canadians already have at least one risk factor for heart disease and 25% have three or more risk factors. (for my American friends the statistics are just as heart wrenching.
To paraphrase Jim Rohn:
Happily, science tells us that we can reduce our chances of getting heart disease by up to 80% with some simple(and maybe surprising) lifestyle changes.
Let’s start with the tried-and-true ways you may already be familiar with: quit smoking, eat a healthy diet, and exercise.
Be a quitter
Smoking increases a person’s risk of developing heart disease and stroke by contributing to the build up of plaque in arteries, and an increase in blood pressure and reduced oxygen in the blood. Quitting smoking can be one of the most challenging habits to break;it is important to have a plan and seek out support.
Eat Heart Smart
A heart healthy diet includes eating an abundance of fruit and vegetables, using plant and seed oils, including more whole(unprocessed) grains, and focusing on lean meats, poultry, and oily fish. It is important to avoid foods high in saturated or trans fats.
Aim for at least 30 minutes a day of moderate activity such as brisk walking, bowling, dancing, vacuuming, swimming and gardening. Breaking it up into chunks of 10 or 15 minutes counts too.
But don’t stop there.
Research shows that there are other, unexpected things you can do to improve your heart health.
Whether you like watching Big Bang Theory or Seinfeld reruns, if it gets you chuckling, it’s good for your heart. Laughing dilates blood vessels, increasing blood flow and reducing blood pressure. Research from the University of Maryland Medical Center shows that laughter helps relieve the stress that damages the lining of blood vessels and helps your blood flow.
2. Get your chocolate fix.
The benefits from chocolate may come from flavonoids, compounds in chocolate, especially dark chocolate, thought to help protect cells against damage. A number of studies suggest that eating dark chocolate may decrease your risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke.How much chocolate are we talking about? About 2 small squares or 6-7 grams per day.
3. Pet your pet.
People with pets tend to have lower blood pressure and decreased risk from heart disease than those who don’t. Pet owners tend to get more physical activity, and as well companionship with pets can boost levels of anti-stress hormones.
4. Sleep on it.
Sleeping for six hours or less per night, may increase your heart disease risk by almost 50%. Too little shut eye can increase blood pressure and cholesterol, and has been implicated in developing Type 2 diabetes. But don’t get too many zzzz’s, as oversleeping (greater than 9 hours) boosts your chances as well.
Taking a few minutes to relax each day, using deep breathing, quiet contemplation or sustained focus can be a great way to affect heart health for the better; anxiety and stress cause blood pressure to shoot up and leave us on edge, triggering spikes in heart-harming stress hormones.
Let’s use this month of love to focus on taking care of our own hearts by giving at least one of these heart-healthy habits a try. Your heart and your loved ones will love you for it.
I’d love to hear your own heart care practices. Please share them below. You never know when you might inspire someone else.