February is American Heart Month, a monthly recognition of the importance of keeping our hearts healthy. While there are many ways we should keep up on our health, such as regular healthcare screenings and checkups, eating healthy, and getting enough exercise- it can seem daunting when we think about doing it all at once. However, there are small daily habits we can develop that will maintain and improve the health of our hearts without being overwhelmed:
1. Eat Healthy Fats: Fats are an important part of our diet, included saturated, polyunsaturated, and unsaturated fats. However, one fat we should avoid as much as possible is trans fat. Trans fats are known to increase our risk of developing heart disease or having a stroke over our lifetime. This is due to the fact that trans fat clogs arteries by raising bad cholesterol (LDL) levels and lowering good cholesterol (HDL) levels. Cutting trans fat from our diets helps to improve our blood flow. These fats are most often found in packaged baked goods, snack foods, margarines, and fried fast foods. You can check the levels of trans fats in ingredients on their food label.
2. Practice Good Dental Hygiene: Dental health is a great way to indicate overall health- including the heart. This is because those with periodontal (gum) disease often have similar risk factors for heart disease. Studies have shown (and continue to be performed) showing that the 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 market for blood vessel inflammation. Make sure to floss and brush your teeth daily.
3. Get Enough Sleep: Sleep is a critical factor in heart health. When we don’t sleep enough, we may be increasing our risk for cardiovascular disease despite our other health habits and age. Many studies recommend that individuals get between 7 and 8 hours of sleep each night. If you have sleep apnea, you should be treated for it as this condition is linked to both heart disease and arrythmias. Murray County Medical Center offers a sleep study program for those interested.
4. Don’t Sit for Too Long: Staying seated for extended periods of time has a negative impact on overall health, despite how much exercise we do. Several observational studies have shown that people that sit for longer periods of time increase their risk for cardiovascular events, and death caused by these events 90-147%. Sitting for long periods of time can also increase risk for deep vein thrombosis (a blood clot). Make sure you’re moving regularly throughout the day- you can park further away from the office, take multiple short walks, or use a standing work station to increase movement.
5. Avoid Secondhand Smoke: The risk for developing heart disease is much high for people exposed to secondhand smoke at home or work. According to the American Heart Association, smoke and tobacco exposure contributes to 34,000 premature heart disease deaths each year. Nonsmokers with high blood pressure of high blood cholesterol are at even higher risk when exposed to secondhand smoke. Be firm with smokers that you do not want to be around environmental smoke.