5 Heart-Healthy Habits to Start Right Now
Valentine’s Day treats are nice, but in February it’s important to focus on more than conversation hearts—your heart’s health deserves your attention too. Here are 5 heart-healthy habits that you can start right now to show your heart some love.
Choose one way to reduce sugar in your diet.
According to the American Heart Association (AHA), added sugars in desserts, drinks, candy, and other foods can lead to weight gain and spike blood glucose levels. Eliminating sugar may be a daunting task, but making small changes can still have health benefits.
- Try adding half the amount of sugar to foods and drinks you normally sweeten, and then continue to reduce from there.
- Trade one sugary drink per day for a glass of water.
- When baking sweet treats, only add half to two-thirds the amount of sugar the recipe calls for or replace sugar completely with unsweetened applesauce.
Adopt a stress-management technique.
No one likes feeling stressed, but did you know that stress can be harmful to your health? Stress is often tied to factors that increase the risk of heart disease, says AHA, including high blood pressure and cholesterol levels, smoking, physical inactivity, and overeating.
- When you notice that you’re starting to feel stressed, pause to take a few slow, deep breaths.
- Go for a walk, even if it’s a short one.
- Meditate or try yoga.
- Turn on music you enjoy.
Be more active at work
Most people spend a significant amount of time at their workplace, and too often that time is spent sitting in one place. Finding ways to add physical activity to the workday can help you lead a more active lifestyle, which is important for preventing heart disease.
- When possible, take the stairs instead of the elevator.
- If you sit at a desk, take regular breaks to stand and walk around.
- If you’re able, walk to a coworker’s desk or office instead of using email, IM, or the phone.
- Start or join a walking group with colleagues.
Improve your sleep habits
Is one of your goals this year to get more sleep? If not, maybe it should be. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says in addition to helping you stay awake and alert during the day, improving your sleep habits may also decrease your risk of high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, and obesity.
- If you find yourself scrolling on your smart phone late at night, charge it in a separate room while you sleep. If it serves as your alarm, try an old-fashioned alarm clock instead.
- Set a bedtime alarm to remind you to go to bed at a decent time.
- Don’t eat or drink within a few hours of bedtime (especially alcohol and high-fat/high-sugar foods).
- Quiet your mind: before bedtime, try meditation, journaling, or reading to help relax the brain.
Quit tobacco, smoking, or vaping
If you are a tobacco user, making the decision to quit may be the best thing you do for your heart this year. According to the AHA, “Smoking is the most preventable cause of death in the United States. Almost one-third of deaths from coronary heart disease are due to smoking and secondhand smoke.” Follow the tips below to help you quit tobacco.
- Choose a date for quitting and commit to it.
- Choose a method for quitting (e.g., “cold turkey,” gradually cutting back, smoke less of each cigarette each time) ahead of time.
- Involve your Primary Care Physician in the process.
- Plan for coping with temptation and how to fill time previously spent using tobacco.
Whether you choose one habit to start or several, let this be the month you take steps toward better heart health.
Thank you to the American Heart Association and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for these and other heart-healthy facts and tips.
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