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29 days (& tips) to a healthier heart

  • Category: General, Cardiology
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  • Written By: Boulder Community Health
29 days (& tips) to a healthier heart

More than half of people in the U.S. (51%) do not know that heart disease is the leading cause of death in the country, for men and women, according to recent data shared by the American Heart Association. Heart disease, though, has been the #1 killer for more than a century – and this lack of knowledge and awareness is potentially deadly.

Every 34 seconds in the U. S. - an adult dies from cardiovascular disease (CVD) (Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – CDC). These are mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers and friends—all gone because of a disease that is usually preventable.

This February during Heart Month, there’s a lot you can do to avoid CVD. We want to motivate our community to adopt heart-healthy behaviors, together. Try one of these tips each day for a month, then keep up the momentum and make your favorites part of your regular routine. Remember: Progress - not perfection – leads to a healthier heart.

1. Call a friend or family member to catch up. Research shows having social support through personal networks makes getting regular physical activity, eating healthy, losing weight, reducing stress, and quitting smoking easier. “Social connections are vital to our human experience. They are about connection and belonging. Look for local events, volunteer, join a class or group, and don’t be afraid to try new things,” says Boulder Heart cardiologist Nelson Trujillo, MD.

2. Wear red for National Wear Red Day, celebrated annually on the first Friday of February. Encourage others to do the same to spread awareness about heart disease as the leading cause of death for Americans.

3. Get smart about your heart. Learn the basics! Know what causes heart disease and your individual risk factors, including family history.

4. Exercise first thing in the morning for a great energy boost to start the day. If you’re not a morning person, schedule time in your day to move and play. “Recess is important at all ages. Above all, have fun,” Dr. Trujillo says.

5. Stress less. Try mindful meditation, relaxation techniques like deep breathing, or yoga for 10 minutes. Our hearts are healthier when we take time to relax in healthy ways. Breathe deeply, exhale slowly, and visualize something lovely, like a favorite walking trail, plant or work of art.

6. Drink more water. Staying well-hydrated is good for your heart. Choose water or seltzer water instead of soda or juice to cut back on unnecessary sugars and caffeine.

7. Make today a salt-free day and try cooking with a new herb or spice. Some examples include allspice, basil, cilantro, cinnamon, cumin, garlic powder, ginger, oregano, paprika, rosemary and sage. “Extra salt increases the fluid in our bodies, which puts extra pressure on our heart chambers and can stretch them out a bit,” says Boulder Heart electrophysiologist Maria Anderson, MD about a diet heavy in salt. “Then, instead of the upper chambers of the heart beating in a nice relaxed, orderly way, they can freak out and start shaking and making the heart go fast.” Discover some of Dr. Anderson’s favorite recipes.

8. Learn about healthy food swaps. Think trading white dinner rolls and potatoes for butternut squash and cauliflower. As author Michael Pollan says, “Eat real food, mostly plants, not too much.” You might even decide you want to plan your menu ahead of time with heart-healthy recipes.

9. Track how long you stand vs. sit today. Activity trackers can help you keep track of your “steps” and encourage more movement.

10. Head to bed with enough time to get a full 7-9 hours of sleep. Practicing good sleep hygiene and behavior will regulate the sleep-wake cycle, says BCH psychiatrist Daniel Fisher, MD. “Make it a priority to give yourself adequate opportunity to sleep,” says BCH sleep medicine specialist Thomas Minor, MD. “If necessary, set an alarm in the evening to remind you it’s time to end your activities and go to bed.

11. If you’re watching today’s Super Bowl, march in place or do jumping jacks during the commercials to get your heart going.

12. Aim for 30 minutes of physical activity today. BCH internal medicine physician Javier Barajas, MD encourages his patients to plan for 150 minutes of moderate intensity aerobic activity each week — about 30 minutes five days a week — of anything that gets the heart beating faster. “Active walking is one of the best activities to start with,” he says.

13. Add a stretch break to your day to increase your flexibility. End the day with a stretch before bedtime.

14. Happy Valentine’s Day! Protect your sweetheart’s heart: Plan a heart-healthy date: hike, bike, or take an online cooking class. Dr. Anderson aims to eat 4g of fiber per serving. “This helps lower cholesterol, prevent heart attacks, treat diabetes, lower blood pressure and prevent colon cancer,” she says.

15. Dance for 15 minutes to your favorite music. Embrace daily short episodes of exercise. The physical therapy team at BCH’s CU Sports Medicine and Performance Center (CUSMPC) says, “Motion is lotion. Any exercise that feels good at a level you can tolerate is helpful for your body.”

16. Call a relative and ask about your family’s heath history. The more you know from your relatives, the better.

17. Eat vegetarian for a day. For lunch and dinner, follow this quick and easy guide to a healthy meal from Moni Banerjee, PA-C at Boulder Heart. Using a salad plate, ½ the plate should be vegetables, ¼ lean protein and ¼ complex carb.

18. Give the elevator the day off and take the stairs. These types of extra movements really add up to break up the day and the time you are sitting.

19. Limit screen and social media use. With the extra time in your day, you might decide to take an extra walk or make a heart-healthy snack.

20. Ask a family member, neighbor or friend to join you for a walk. When you schedule your exercise Ike you would schedule a meeting or appointment you are more likely to stay committed.

21. Share a funny video or joke that makes you laugh. Laughter is a great way to connect with others and release tension, and as Dr. Trujillo states, fun is important!

22. Walk an extra 15 minutes today. Whether you are walking for ten minutes or 30 minutes, tack on an extra 15 this time.

23. Add an extra piece of fruit or veggie to each meal or swap the sweets for a piece of fruit for dessert. Tip: frozen fruits and veggies are just as nutritious. Dr. Trujillo urges his patients to choose “Greens Over Blues” - meaning eat as many nutritious and colorful fruits and vegetables as possible to boost mood and energy.

24. Make TV and movie watching more active by standing up and stretching every 15 minutes. This is a great way to pass those pesky commercial breaks.

25. Schedule your annual wellness exam with your primary care provider (PCP) to discuss your goals and to find out your numbers: blood pressure, blood sugar, cholesterol, weight, body mass index (BMI), and A1C. Remember to keep current on your doctor’s appointments and medications as part of your self-care routine.

26. Take a CPR training course to know what to do for sudden cardiac and pulmonary arrest in adults, children and infants.

27. Watch one of BCH’s community education lectures on heart health.

28. Learn about local health resources within your community, such as your local recreation and fitness centers. Dr. Barajas says you should do muscle-strengthening activities at least two days per week. This can include squats, pushups, wall squats or other body-weight exercises, if you don’t have access to weights.

29. Be proud of yourself for sticking with these tips for an entire month.

Tips listed above were sourced and adapted from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute’s #OurHearts Calendar.

Call Boulder Heart at 303-442-2395 to schedule an appointment with the area’s most experienced cardiology team today.