Heart health is one of those things that we all know is important, but to actually commit to it, to actually make the lifestyle changes that are necessary is a whole other ball game. With that in mind, we’ve put together five practical tips for Healthy Heart Month!
Cut Down on Sedentary Time
Okay so you knew this first one was coming – change your sedentary behaviors!! The average office worker sits anywhere from nine to 12 hours a day, and some sit more. This incredible amount of sitting can cause serious problems for your cardiovascular health, since movement is what helps get your blood pumping. From a practical standpoint, we know that integrating movement isn’t always a walk in the park (no pun intended).
Choose a Heart-Healthy Diet
The next big one is diet. We all know that certain foods are more heart-healthy than others, but what in specific should we be avoiding? There are many rules about which foods to avoid and which to seek out, but in general it’s best to limit your intake of foods that are high in salt, saturated fats or trans fats. Some of these items include things like heavy cream, butter, bacon and other unhealthy snacks like fast food or doughnuts.
The key here is moderation. If you tell yourself that you can NEVER have any unhealthy foods, you’re probably going to end up craving them more than ever. If you indulge every once in a while to satisfy those cravings but commit to eating healthy on a regular basis, you’re more likely to be successful. That said, make eating healthy fun! There are so many delicious recipes out there that are good for you too, and these can make healthy eating something you actually want to do rather than a chore.
Exercise is so important for heart health! Your heart is a muscle, and just like other muscles in your body it needs to be worked in order to get stronger. Find an exercise routine that you enjoy and that works with your schedule and stick to it. Also make sure not to go from zero to 100; if you haven’t worked out in a while, start small and slowly work your way up so that you don’t overstress your heart at the beginning. This article from the Mayo Clinic gives you a better idea of just how much and how often you should be exercising.
As a practical tip, buy a calendar that is specifically for your exercise schedule and write out a plan for yourself. This way, you can easily see what’s coming up and work it seamlessly into your schedule. Another good idea is to set up an accountability partner: if you’re someone who struggles with finding motivation for this kind of thing, find a friend who has more discipline in this area and get them to keep you accountable. Schedule in workouts together and have them check-up on you regularly to ensure you’re sticking to your routine. Besides, working out with someone is more fun anyway!
Take Time to Destress
With the hustle and bustle of our Western culture, it’s easy to get stressed and overwhelmed with the number of tasks that need to be done. In fact, almost 25 per cent of Canadians report having high levels of stress. That’s a lot! This is why it’s so important to take steps to manage your stress and give yourself a break when need be, because too much stress can have damaging effects to the heart, contributing to symptoms like high blood pressure and high cholesterol.
The Heart and Stroke Foundation has some excellent tools on how to reduce your stress in life. The bottom line is, find out what causes you the most stress and take specific, targeted steps to reduce it. Similarly, find out what helps you destress and take steps to schedule time for it! Everyone is unique and you need to figure out what works best for you.
Get Regular Check-Ups
Unfortunately, even those of us who are doing everything right health-wise can still encounter heart health concerns. Certain people are more predisposed to heart disease than others, whether it’s because of genetics or other environmental factors. That means it’s important to visit your doctor for regular check-ups to ensure that your ticker is still ticking the way it should be. This is a really easy step that anyone can take to ensure that they’re keeping heart health a top priority. For helpful information on how often you should have your heart checked, check out this blog post.
Let’s make February the best Heart Month yet – start living heart-healthy today!