February is the month of hearts. Valentine’s Day is the outward expression of love and its symbol is the heart. February is also health month for the American Heart Association as we try and focus on loving our bodies and reminding ourselves of the way in which we are able to keep our hearts healthy.
Heart health has a major focus in health care, as cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in the United States. Cardiovascular disease includes heart disease, hypertension (high blood pressure) and stroke. These diagnosis are attributed to one in every three deaths.
So if we know that our hearts are important and we know that we can make some simple changes to improve our overall health, we should being taking steps to that end. What should we do?
Watch what you eat
Most of the time we are aware of the foods that we should eat and those that we need to eat in moderation. Sometimes the challenge is in just changing the way in which we prepare food and the amount that we eat.
Monitoring and limiting saturated fats (animal fat), trans fats and cholesterol is important in being able to reduce your blood cholesterol. High cholesterol is a risk factor for developing heart disease. Examples of these fats are red meat, butter/margarine, shortening, processed cookies, chips and many crackers are produced with oil containing trans fat. One way to monitor is to begin reading the labels on these products as they are required to indicate the percentages of these fats in the product.
Substitutes that are monosaturated fats, like coconut, canola and olive oil, are good options for reducing fats in cooking.
Mega meals, supersizing, and extra-large food choices are another way in which we impact not only our heart health, but our overall health as well. Keep track of your portion size and the number of servings you eat. Keeping a food journal is an example of keeping yourself accountable.
Load up on fruits and veggies. Fruits and veggies are low in calories and high in dietary fiber. They can fill in for other higher calorie, high-fat foods like cheese and snack foods.
It’s a simple concept, yet harder to implement if you have a sedentary lifestyle. We need to move to keep our hearts healthy, and making that happen can be harder than we think.
The important thing is just to start. Start slowly and simple. Park your car a little farther away from your building, forcing you to walk a bit further. Take the stairs. Get up from your desk once an hour to take a quick walk around the office or the building to get a break from the computer. It not only helps with activity, but gives your mind a break as well.
Start a walking group for a lunch break. Join an activity that you enjoy with people that you like and will hold you accountable.
Manage your stress
It’s been documented and reported that our emotions influence our heart health. Negative emotions — fear, anger, sadness, frustration, depression, anxiety and stress — can have a negative impact on our bodies. Managing these emotions can help fight heart disease.
It is uncommon to meet individuals who have proactively established a daily activity to help reduce their stress. Stress reduction can be as simple as sitting quietly for a period of time and breathing deeply.
This concentrated quiet time can have a positive impact on a person’s outlook and ability to manage the day-to-day stressors that most of us face.
Other forms of stress reduction can include yoga, meditation, biofeedback, prayer, walking, knitting and gardening, to name just a few.
The reality is that stress-reduction activities or lack of activity are as personalized as each of us. What assists one person in reducing stress may not work for another, so seeking out the method that works for you is key.
As we get older, the value of overall health increases in its impact on our bodies. Because we value our hearts, we must make the effort to live a life free from heart disease, and each little change can help.
It’s all up to you.
To Your Health is written by the staff of Boulder City Hospital. For more information, call 702-293-4111, ext. 576, or visit bouldercityhospital.org.