February is Heart Health month. That doesn’t mean February is the only month you should be concerned about the health of your heart, but it is a good time to re-evaluate your heart healthy habits. We all know that exercise and a well balanced diet go a long way to keep your ticker going strong but what else can you do? Incorporating the following 5 simple lifestyle habits can go along way to improve heart health and help prevent heart disease and stroke. Heart disease is a progressive condition that can start early in life but can also be prevented or controlled by making smart lifestyle choices. Follow a heart-healthy diet, get plenty of exercise, do what you can to reduce stress and live a life of moderation and you will be well on your way to maintaining a healthy heart.
- Eat Healthy Fats NOT Trans Fats – We all need fat in our diet. Fats are essential in many processes throughout the body and should be eaten in moderation at every meal. Not only do they give us energy but they are essential for generating new cells, transporting vitamins, protecting the brain and regulating many bodily processes. That being said, not all fats are created equal. The North American Diet is high in fat but can be very low in “healthy fat”. There are three general types of fat including:
- Healthy Saturated Fat (solid at room temperature ie: butter, animal fat, coconut oil)
- Healthy Unsaturated fat (Omega 6 plant oils ie: nuts, seeds, vegetable oils and Omega 3 fish oils)
- Unhealthy Trans Fat (primarily artificially made through hydrogenation and present in fast food, fried food and commercial baked goods)
- Get Enough Sleep – Sleep is essential to good health. When we are sleeping our body does its work, repairing and regenerating itself. Lack of sleep can lead to an increased risk of heart attack and stroke. Researchers believe sleeping too little causes disruptions in underlying health conditions and biological processes, including blood pressure and inflammation. Aim to get 7-8 hours of sleep each night. Good sleep habits including reducing screen time before bed, sleeping in a dark room and maintaining a consistent sleep time. All which can help improve the quality and quantity of your sleep.
- Reduce Stress – Stress can wreak havoc on your body and your overall health. How much stress you experience and how you react to it can lead to a wide variety of health problems including an increase risk for heart disease including high blood pressure and cholesterol levels. Stress can negatively affect your sleep, zap your energy levels and create tension in relationships. Finding ways to reduce your stress and mitigate your response to stress can go a long way to improving your health. Tools like meditation, exercise and a healthy diet can help deal with high stress situations. Adaptogen herbs such as Ashwaganda or supplements like L-Theanine can also help with stress management.
- Practice Good Dental Hygiene – It may seem unconnected but studies have shown that bacteria in the mouth involved in the development of gum disease can move into the bloodstream and cause an elevation in C-reactive protein, a marker for inflammation in the blood vessels. This may increase your risk of heart disease and stroke. Brush and floss daily to prevent gum disease and reduce your risk of heart disease. Increasing the healthy bacteria (probiotics) in your body can also help defend against unwanted and dangerous bacteria.
- Consume Less Added Sugar- Not only will eating less sugar improve your dental hygiene it can also reduce your risk of dying of heart disease. Added sugars make up at least 10% of the calories in the North American diet (can be as highs 25%). A 15 year study on added sugar and heart disease published in JAMA Internal Medicine, resulted in solid findings that the odds of dying from heart disease rose in tandem with the percentage of sugar in the diet—and that was true regardless of a person’s age, sex, physical activity level, and body-mass index. Sugar sweetened beverages (pop, energy drinks, juice punches) are by far the biggest source of added sugar in our diets but cookies, cakes, candy, and other sweet foods also contribute. Sugar has also been linked to increased inflammation in the body. Reducing sugar intake to less than 100 calories (women) or 150 calories (men) can have a positive effect not only on the health of your heart but on digestion, joint pain, cognitive function and more.