Follow Your Heart

Valentine’s Day may be over, but it’s important to show your heart some love all year long! Heart disease is deadlier than all forms of cancer combined; luckily, even small changes can make a huge difference to your health.

Rise and shine. Start the day by stretching and taking a few moments to breathe deeply and clear your mind. Studies show that yoga can lower cholesterol, while meditation helps lower blood pressure.

Get a move on. Aerobic exercise raises your heart rate and gets your blood pumping, which strengthens the heart and lungs and improves your body’s ability to use oxygen. Aim for a minimum of 20-30 minutes, 3-4 times a week. For less wear and tear on older joints, try low-impact activities such as biking, walking, swimming, water aerobics, or working out on an elliptical or rowing machine.

Don’t smoke. It’s not just about lungs. Chemicals in tobacco smoke harm your blood cells and can damage the structure and function of blood vessels. Smokers are 2-4x more likely to develop heart disease and the risk is higher for women. Enough said!

Boost your “D”. You already know that vitamin D helps your body absorb calcium, an essential component of strong bones. But did you know that low D may be risky for your heart? Checking vitamin D levels isn’t always a routine part of an annual physical, so ask your doctor if you should be tested. I discovered that mine was alarmingly low since I am super cautious about avoiding the sun, and my doctor recommended a daily supplement. Most people can get sufficient vitamin D from 15 min/day of unprotected sun exposure but don’t forget the sunblock after that.

Know your cholesterol numbers, especially the balance between HDL (“Healthy” high-density lipoprotein) and LDL (“Lousy” low-density lipoprotein). Exercise helps boost HDL, while adding more fiber to your diet can lower your LDL.

Veg out. The USDA recommends eating 5 servings a day of fruits and veggies and most of us don’t even come close. Brightly-colored fruits and vegetables are full of nutrients including antioxidants, which prevent and repair damage caused by free radicals, molecules that attack healthy cells.

Don’t fear fat! Fats are essential for a healthy diet, as long as we eat the right kinds, particularly omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3s help maintain cell membranes and can lower triglycerides—reducing the risk of heart attack and stroke, and slowing the buildup of artery-hardening plaque. Natural sources include walnuts, extra virgin olive oil, and fatty fish such as salmon, mackerel, anchovies, and certain types of trout.

Practice gratitude. Constant stress is linked to a higher risk of heart disease. To help put things in perspective, focus on the blessings in your life instead of dwelling on what could be “better”. Making a list of everything you’re grateful for will remind you what really counts, as will helping others who are less fortunate.

Grin, giggle and guffaw. I read recently that a good belly laugh can send 20% more blood flowing through your entire body. As you laugh your blood vessel walls relax and expand, which helps keep them pliable and flexible. So share a joke, watch a comedy, or enjoy the absurdity in potentially frustrating situations.

For more information about heart health and women, check out the GoRed website. And go spread the love!

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