FOCUS ON WELLNESS

It's February—be sweet to your heart

10 steps you can take to improve your heart health (and you're probably already doing some of them)

Man and daughter dancing energetically in the living room

Credit: GETTY IMAGES

This content is provided to Johns Hopkins employees through a partnership with CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield.

February is American Heart Month—a good time to focus on improving your heart health. Here are some facts, how-to-tips, and resources to inspire you.

Heart disease

Heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women in the United States. About 90% of middle-aged people and more than 74% of young adults have one or more of the condition's risk factors, which include diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, excess weight, and smoking. Having multiple risk factors increases the probability for heart disease.

Connecting is good for your heart

Feeling connected to others and having positive, close relationships benefit overall health, including blood pressure and weight. Having people in our lives who motivate and care for us helps, as do feelings of closeness and companionship.

Heart-healthy lifestyle tips

Follow these heart-healthy lifestyle tips with your friends, family, co-workers, and others in your community, and you'll all be heart healthier for it:

  • Be more physically active
  • Maintain a healthy weight
  • Eat a nutritious diet
  • Quit smoking
  • Reduce your stress
  • Get enough quality sleep
  • Track your heart-health stats

You don't have to make big changes all at once. Small steps will get you where you want to go.

Move more

Invite family, friends, colleagues, or members of your community to join you in your efforts to be more physically active.

  • Ask someone to walk with you on a regular basis; put the dates on both your calendars, and text or call beforehand to make sure you both walk.
  • Join an online exercise class and invite a friend along.
  • Grab your kids, put on music, and do jumping jacks, skip rope, or dance. (No kids? Do it alone.)
  • Make your social time active and encourage everyone—family and friends alike—to think of fun activities that get you off the couch and moving.

How much is enough? Aim for at least 2.5 hours of physical activity each week—that's just 30 minutes on five days. In addition, do muscle strengthening exercises two days a week. Can't carve out a lot of time in your day? Don't chuck your goal, chunk it: Try 10 or 15 minutes a few times a day. The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute's Move More fact sheet provides ideas to get and keep you moving.

Aim for a healthy weight

Find someone in your friend, work, or family groups who also wants to reach or maintain a healthy weight. (If you're overweight, even a small weight loss of 5% to 10% helps your health.) Check in with each other regularly to stay motivated. Make sure that you both do healthy activities, such as walking. Share low-calorie, low-sodium recipes or meals.

Eat heart-healthy

We tend to eat like our friends and family, so ask others close to you to join in your effort to eat healthier. Together, try the free Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) eating plan. Research shows that, compared to a typical American diet, it lowers high blood pressure and improves blood cholesterol levels.

Quit smoking

To help you quit, ask others for support or join an online support group. Also, research shows that people are much more likely to quit if their spouse, friend, or sibling does. If you need extra motivation, consider those around you: Breathing other people's smoke is dangerous. Thousands of adult nonsmokers die each year of stroke, heart disease, and lung cancer caused by secondhand smoke.

Manage stress

Reducing stress helps your heart health. Meet up with a friend or family member—whether it's in person or virtually—to do a relaxing activity every day, such as yoga, meditation, or walking, or participate in a stress management program together. Physical activity also helps reduce stress. Talk to a qualified mental health provider or someone else you trust.

Improve sleep

Sleeping seven to eight hours a night helps improve heart health. De-stressing will help you sleep, as does getting a 30-minute daily dose of sunlight. Take a walk instead of a late afternoon nap. Family members and friends: Remind each other to turn off the screen and stick to a regular bedtime. Instead of watching TV before bed, relax by listening to music, reading, or taking a bath.

Track your heart-health stats

Keeping a log of your blood pressure, weight goals, physical activity, and, if you have diabetes, your blood sugars will help you stay on a heart-healthy track. Ask your friends or family to join you in the effort.

Take advantage of easy-to-access resources

Find delicious recipes on NHLBI's Heart Healthy Eating webpage.

Check out NHLBI's Aim for a Healthy Weight webpage.

For free smoking cessation support, call 800-QUIT-NOW (800-784-8669). You also can find many free resources to help you quit smoking, such as apps, a motivational text service, and a chat line, at BeTobaccoFree.hhs.gov and Smokefree.gov.

Check out NHLBI's Healthy Blood Pressure for Healthy Hearts: Tracking Your Numbers worksheet.

Posted in Health+Wellness

Tagged hr newswire