Did you know that February is American Heart Month? It’s a month dedicated to the fight against heart disease. A healthy lifestyle is the best defense against cardiovascular disease, and now is the perfect time to start taking care of yourself, and committing to a healthy lifestyle.
A great way to begin is by becoming more active. Regular exercise can help reduce your blood pressure and cholesterol levels. Start things off by simply walking for 15 minutes, three times a week, then gradually increase the length of your exercise. Within a few weeks, you should walk 30 minutes a day. The walk doesn’t need to be strenuous, all you need to do is go for a brisk stroll around town, or along a trail. You will start feeling better in no time!
Eating properly can also play a major role in improving your cardiovascular fitness. Cook heart-healthy meals at least three times a week. You don’t need to give up your favorite food, but if that food is not healthy, cut back on the amount you eat. Instead, start adding healthy foods to your meals. You should also work to cut back on sodium (salt) in your diet. Experiment with salt-free recipes, or swap out salt for fresh or dried herbs and spices. The American Heart Association recommends a diet that focuses on fruits and vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy products, skinless poultry and fish, nuts and legumes, and non-tropical vegetable oils. Finally, avoid foods and beverages that are high in calories, but nutrient-poor.
If you’re a smoker, start cutting back, or working to quit. Smoking increases the risk of coronary heart disease by decreasing good cholesterol. Smoking also makes it harder to breath, and therefore, harder to exercise. It also raises blood pressure, and increases blood clots, which can cause strokes. Once you quit, your lungs will begin healing themselves, and you’ll start feeling the benefits within hours.
Finally, discuss heart health with your doctor. Getting an annual check-up is a good idea, even if you are not feeling ill. Use the opportunity to discuss heart health with your doctor, and set goals to improve your health.
Following all of these steps can seem daunting. But, if you need some inspiration, think of your sweetheart, and all of the Valentine’s Days that you will enjoy as you live a long, full life.
Dr. Karen Eldevick specializes in family medicine and primary care at Bellin Health Marinette.