February often has us focus on feelings associated with the heart. Flowers, commercialized romance and chocolate may fill our minds.
But these aren’t the only matters of the heart that we should be thinking about, as February is also the time of year we bring awareness to heart health. Heart disease is the number one killer of women. In fact, every minute a woman dies of heart disease, stroke, or another associated cardiovascular disease.
For men, one in every four deaths in the U.S. is the result of heart disease. And half of all men who die due to coronary heart disease experience no prior symptoms.
So what does that mean for all of us? It means that we need to take care when it comes to matters of the heart. Not sure where to begin? Keep reading to find out what you can do to help improve your heart health.
Stress and Heart Health
A recent study conducted by Harvard Medical School links chronic stress in the brain’s amygdala as a contributing factor in coronary artery disease. But take heart. There is much you can do to mitigate the effects of stress.
Here are a few techniques you can start today:
- Create an attitude of gratitude regarding the positives in your life. Take a few minutes to reflect on what’s working in your life, no matter how small. This can help create a more favorable mindset and reduce stress.
- Before bed or when you awaken, stop for a moment and jot down three things for which you’re grateful. Truly focus on them for a few minutes. You may be surprised how you feel when you’re done.
- Practice random acts of kindness. Do something to brighten a stranger’s day. Give of yourself without an expectation of reciprocity. This can have an marked impact on how you feel long after the act is done. Slip some spare change into a random parking meter that ran out of time, or buy a coffee for the person behind you in line. Yes, the acts may be small, but even small acts of kindness matter. The result? Knowing you did something simply for the sake of kindness can make you feel more positive.
- Commit to a daily Mind/Body practice. HeartMath’s Quick Coherence technique not only reduces stress and minimizes energy drain, it builds resilience. In fact, just a few minutes a day can be beneficial. Try it in the morning, before bedtime, or whenever a stressful event occurs. Here’s an audio file of the Quick Coherence Technique, which is yours free to download. Practice once a day for a week and notice if you don’t feel a difference.
Heart Healthy Eating
There’s more to heart health than stress management. In fact, diet and exercise play a significant role in the health of your heart as well as the rest of your body.
Here are easy-to-implement tips:
- Make sure your diet is supporting heart health, by enjoying the right kinds of foods.
- Control portion sizes. Consider switching to smaller plates or bowls when you serve up a meal.
- Sub salad plates for full-size dinner plates or trade out large bowls for smaller versions. For things like soup, you might even find a small coffee cup is an excellent option.
- Enjoy generous portions of salads and vegetables and have a light hand when adding dressing or sauces.
- Skip bottled dressings altogether and make your own. Try a mixture of organic olive oil, lemon juice and dried thyme. Add crushed garlic or a splash of balsamic vinegar, to taste.
- If you eat flesh foods, opt for white meat chicken or fish. Select a portion about the size of a deck of cards. After dinner, if you crave something sweet, reach for fruit instead of a traditional dessert.
It’s important to remember that like all muscles in the body, the heart needs appropriate exercise. The American Heart Association recommends 150 minutes per week of moderate exercise, which rounds out to a mere 20 minutes per day. Start by walking. It’s accessible, easy and it doesn’t cost a thing. It’s fine to break up your workout into 10 to 15-minute segments throughout the day, making it even easier to accomplish.
Yoga As Stress Management
Just as vital in minimizing the effects of stress are mind/body practices like yoga or Tai Chi. Not only do they help to promote mindfulness, they develop a sense of nociception or inner awareness. With a greater sense of awareness, learning to avoid stress becomes a real skill set.
There are many options for improving heart health, many of which you can begin using today. There’s no reason not to give these a try. In the end, every effort counts, and your heart is worth it.