February is American Health Month. Cardiovascular diseases – including congestive heart failure, atherosclerosis, heart attack and stroke – remain the leading cause of death in the world; yet, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), almost a third of cardiac-related deaths are preventable. While some risk factors, such as age and heredity, are beyond our control, there are numerous things we can do create a heart-healthy lifestyle and reduce our risk of a cardiovascular event. First, if you smoke, quit. According to the National Institutes for Health, doing so may reduce your risk by 50 percent.

Ways to Increase Heart Health

Break a Sweat

Physical activity is one of the best ways you can improve your heart’s health. First, it strengthens the heart, making it easier to pump blood through the body with less strain. It also helps to maintain a healthy weight. This is important because obesity is one of the risk factors for heart disease. Exercise can also reduce cholesterol, another risk factor. Exercise can be difficult to manage as we get older, but it’s essential to a healthy body and heart. Discuss with your doctor ways in which you can be physically active. The American Heart Association recommends that individuals perform at least 150 minutes per week of moderate exercise or 75 minutes per week of vigorous exercise.

Eat More Nutritiously

A healthy diet can go a long way in reducing your risk for heart disease. Changing your diet can seem like a daunting task, especially when your favorite foods seem to always be on the “I can’t have that” list. According to a study conducted by the American College of Cardiology, people who followed the Mediterranean diet were 47 percent less likely to develop heart disease. A Mediterranean diet focuses on choosing to eat more fresh fruit and vegetables, whole grains, nuts, fish, and seafood instead of red and processed meats and trans fats. If this seems like too much of a challenge, start slowly, with some simple steps – such as replacing a few less-healthy items with heart-healthy choices. For instance, if you really enjoy chocolate, try dark chocolate. Dark chocolate helps restore flexibility to arteries while also preventing white blood cells from sticking to the walls of blood vessels. If you love your side dishes, try making a cauliflower mash with olive oil instead of mashed potatoes with cream and butter. Instead of salt, try spices, herbs or lemon juice. Love your morning toast? Aim for whole grains with lots of fiber.

Relax

Unsurprisingly, stress can be a major player in your heart health. Think about it like rush hour traffic in your body. Stress increases your blood pressure (a lot of people trying to get somewhere all at once) and can contribute to blockages (like an accident in the middle lane) in your veins that force your heart to work that much harder. Keeping a positive attitude is also a great way to ease the strain on your heart. The Harvard School of Public Health discovered that people who express optimism and are generally positive have a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease.

Get More Sleep

Sleep deprivation can increase your risk in a number of ways. First, it can lead to weight gain. A lack of sleep can hinder the ability of the frontal lobe of your brain – which governs decision-making and impulse control – to perform at its best. Additionally, when you’re tired, the brain starts seeking out something to make it feel better, making it harder to resist food cravings. A South Korean study discovered that adults who sleep five or fewer hours a day have 50 percent more calcium in their coronary arteries than those who sleep seven hours a day. Calcium buildup is a warning sign for potential heart disease.

Give Thanks

A study conducted by the University of California, San Diego showed that heart patients who had higher levels of gratitude had better moods, higher quality sleep, less fatigue, and less inflammation, a symptom that worsens with the progression of heart disease. Paul Mills, professor of family medicine and public health at the University of California, San Diego, who led the study, concluded that “it seems that a more grateful heart is indeed a more healthy heart.”

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February is American Health Month. Cardiovascular diseases – including congestive heart failure, atherosclerosis, heart attack and stroke – remain the leading cause of death in the world; yet, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), almost a third of cardiac-related deaths are preventable. While some risk factors, such as age and heredity, are beyond our control, there are numerous things we can do create a heart-healthy lifestyle and reduce our risk of a cardiovascular event. First, if you smoke, quit. According to the National Institutes for Health, doing so may reduce your risk by 50 percent.

Ways to Increase Heart Health

Break a Sweat

Physical activity is one of the best ways you can improve your heart’s health. First, it strengthens the heart, making it easier to pump blood through the body with less strain. It also helps to maintain a healthy weight. This is important because obesity is one of the risk factors for heart disease. Exercise can also reduce cholesterol, another risk factor. Exercise can be difficult to manage as we get older, but it’s essential to a healthy body and heart. Discuss with your doctor ways in which you can be physically active. The American Heart Association recommends that individuals perform at least 150 minutes per week of moderate exercise or 75 minutes per week of vigorous exercise.

Eat More Nutritiously

A healthy diet can go a long way in reducing your risk for heart disease. Changing your diet can seem like a daunting task, especially when your favorite foods seem to always be on the “I can’t have that” list. According to a study conducted by the American College of Cardiology, people who followed the Mediterranean diet were 47 percent less likely to develop heart disease. A Mediterranean diet focuses on choosing to eat more fresh fruit and vegetables, whole grains, nuts, fish, and seafood instead of red and processed meats and trans fats. If this seems like too much of a challenge, start slowly, with some simple steps – such as replacing a few less-healthy items with heart-healthy choices. For instance, if you really enjoy chocolate, try dark chocolate. Dark chocolate helps restore flexibility to arteries while also preventing white blood cells from sticking to the walls of blood vessels. If you love your side dishes, try making a cauliflower mash with olive oil instead of mashed potatoes with cream and butter. Instead of salt, try spices, herbs or lemon juice. Love your morning toast? Aim for whole grains with lots of fiber.

Relax

Unsurprisingly, stress can be a major player in your heart health. Think about it like rush hour traffic in your body. Stress increases your blood pressure (a lot of people trying to get somewhere all at once) and can contribute to blockages (like an accident in the middle lane) in your veins that force your heart to work that much harder. Keeping a positive attitude is also a great way to ease the strain on your heart. The Harvard School of Public Health discovered that people who express optimism and are generally positive have a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease.

Get More Sleep

Sleep deprivation can increase your risk in a number of ways. First, it can lead to weight gain. A lack of sleep can hinder the ability of the frontal lobe of your brain – which governs decision-making and impulse control – to perform at its best. Additionally, when you’re tired, the brain starts seeking out something to make it feel better, making it harder to resist food cravings. A South Korean study discovered that adults who sleep five or fewer hours a day have 50 percent more calcium in their coronary arteries than those who sleep seven hours a day. Calcium buildup is a warning sign for potential heart disease.

Give Thanks

A study conducted by the University of California, San Diego showed that heart patients who had higher levels of gratitude had better moods, higher quality sleep, less fatigue, and less inflammation, a symptom that worsens with the progression of heart disease. Paul Mills, professor of family medicine and public health at the University of California, San Diego, who led the study, concluded that “it seems that a more grateful heart is indeed a more healthy heart.”

Share This Story!