Happy, Healthy Heart Month

By: Megan Smith, BS, Health Coach Nutritionist, CPT

February is the month of love – celebrating Valentine’s Day with our loved ones, but it is also American Heart Month, a time when people can focus on and become aware of their cardiovascular health.


But what is Cardiovascular Health?

Cardiovascular health relates to the cardiovascular system, which includes your heart and the blood vessels that move blood around your body. The blood pumped through your heart supplies vital oxygen and nutrients throughout your body. Cardiovascular diseases are a group of diseases of the heart and blood vessels including coronary heart disease, stroke, heart failure, heart arrhythmias, heart valve problems, and hypertension.

Unfortunately, heart disease is the leading killer of Americans, taking the lives of 2,200 people each day. In addition, 103 million adults have high blood pressure (the silent killer) and 6.5 million are living with heart failure. While genetic factors do play a part in some cardiovascular diseases, a whopping 80% of these conditions may be preventable or reversed with healthy lifestyle changes.


Here are 7 health tips to incorporate into your life to make and keep your heart happy and healthy:


#1 Quit smoking.

Quitting smoking is the best thing that can be done for the heart and for overall health. Smoking is the most preventable cause of premature death, and smokers have a higher risk of developing many chronic disorders, including atherosclerosis (the buildup of fatty substances in the arteries). Quitting is never easy, but the III-A is here for you and provides tobacco cessation programs and covers nicotine replacement therapies to help you quit and stay quit.


#2 Know your numbers and get regular screenings.

Regular screenings are very important for health awareness and proper treatment plans. Untreated conditions, like high cholesterol, blood pressure, or untreated diabetes can lead to heart disease, among many other complications. Make sure you attend the annual III-A Wellness Screenings or have an annual visit with your Primary Care Provider to get a (no-cost) wellness screening. Questions on your numbers? Give one of the III-A Telehealth providers a call to learn more!


#3 Maintain a healthy body weight.

Carrying extra weight can wreak havoc on your organs and joints, potentially causing heart and other health conditions. Even a modest weight loss of 5% to 10% of your total body weight is likely to produce health benefits, such as improvements in blood pressure, blood cholesterol, and blood sugar. A physician can help determine a healthy weight for you, and programs through the III–A like Wondr Health, health coaching, or diabetes prevention program, can help you lose weight and maintain a healthy weight through sustainable and lasting lifestyle changes.


#4 Get and stay active.

Heart-pumping physical activity not only helps to prevent cardiovascular disease but can also improve overall mental and physical health. The American Heart Association recommends five 30-minute moderate exercise sessions per week. While this may seem daunting, it is important to note that these sessions can be broken up into 10 or 15-minute segments throughout the day. Walking, jogging, biking and dancing are all great forms of cardiovascular exercise. And remember, any little burst of movement is better than none. Try to sneak in activity whenever you can by opting to take the stairs, park further away in parking lots, and get up from your desk and move around each hour (or even better, request a standing desk).


#5 Fuel smart.

A healthy diet full of heart-smart foods is essential to a healthy heart and lifestyle. Healthy fats, like salmon, nuts, and avocados, along with berries, dark leafy greens, and oats are a few of the heart “superfoods” that may help reduce the risk of atherosclerosis. Dark chocolate is also on the list and is a great way to satisfy a sweet tooth!


#6 Limit junk food.
To reap the full benefits of a heart-healthy diet, it’s important to limit your intake of nutrient-poor or empty-calorie junk foods. Added sugars, saturated fat and excessive sodium can all negatively impact heart health, as well as overall physical health. These foods, when eaten in excess, can cause weight gain, raise blood pressure, and clog arteries, which are all risk factors for heart disease.


#7 Manage and decrease stress.

Stress increases cortisol, which leads to weight gain, a key risk factor for heart disease. In addition, stress can lead to other unhealthy habits, making it harder to stick to a heart-healthy program. To reduce stress, focus on adding techniques like deep breathing, yoga, positive self-talk, and incorporating mindfulness meditation breaks throughout the day. Also, a good sleep routine helps decrease stress and increase overall happiness, so focus on getting at least 7 hours of zzz’s per night.


How can you celebrate Heart Health Month?

Focus on one or more tips above to give your heart some love. And remember, a happy heart is a healthy heart!  Use this month to create new routines that focus on self-care and enjoyable healthy activities that not only help relieve stress but also provide a great foundation for a heart-healthy lifestyle!


Contact Megan Smith, III-A Wellness Manager, for any additional information pertaining to lifestyle changes to improve your heart health.
[email protected]