February is the month of Valentine’s Day and candy hearts, but did you know it’s also American Heart Month? American Heart Month was established in 1963 by President Lyndon B. Johnson, after Congress requested it. The US was becoming aware that heart health was important for the nation in many ways. Keeping your heart healthy is one of the best ways you can live a long, active, happy life. Heart disease is the number one killer of Americans, and the third leading killer of people worldwide.
The COVID-19 pandemic has had a significant impact on public health, and this includes heart-related issues. People are less likely to seek medical assistance for heart attacks and strokes during a pandemic due to fear of exposure in hospital waiting rooms. In addition, people are eating less healthily, drinking more alcohol, smoking more, and limiting physical activity, all of which can contribute to heart disease.
How can you keep your heart healthy while staying safe during the pandemic? Through small changes that can make a big impact in how healthy your heart is! We are going to highlight the best ways to maintain and increase heart health even while isolating from others. Before making any diet or exercise change, please consult with your physician. If you don’t have a trusted physician, UNC Lenoir Health Care can help! Consult our Physician Finder or give us a call at 252.522.7000. You can also email us at email@example.com.
Move your body: Regular exercise is so important for a healthy heart. During the pandemic, gym attendance has been limited and many people have lost their exercise routines. However, there are small things you can do at home that have big results.
- Take the stairs. If you have stairs, use them! Spend a few minutes every couple of hours going up and down the stairs. It’s great aerobic exercise.
- Dance, dance, dance. Have a little dance party in your den. No one can see you, so it’s time to get down! Dancing can burn up to 200 calories an hour, and it’s fun.
- Stretch your limbs. Stretching improves balance, flexibility, and strength. There is a reason why football players and other athletes stretch; it’s great for any sport. Stretching is also a stress reliever. This excellent piece by HuffPost has examples of great stretches that you can use to improve your mind and body.
- Get out of that chair! Staying seated for long periods of time can shorten your lifespan by keeping your heart inactive. It is easy to sit at a desk all day, particularly if you’re working remotely. Take regular breaks to move around, go for a stroll on your lunch break, and get up and wiggle! Kids naturally do this for a reason; it is also healthy behavior in adults.
Reduce Stress: Stress can impact the body in many ways, leading to increased heart disease risk, high blood pressure, and higher cholesterol levels. Behaviors that often emerge during times of stress include increased smoking and drinking, physical inactivity, overeating, and less sleep. It also leads people to feel cranky, forgetful, and sad. During a pandemic, saying “lower your stress levels” can feel insulting and dismissive. However, if you can put a few good practices into effect, it can have a huge impact on how you feel during what’s an incredibly stressful time.
- Spend time with your animals. Pets offer unconditional love and great company, and they also offer numerous health benefits. The CDC says that pets can help decrease blood pressure, cholesterol levels, triglyceride levels, and feelings of loneliness.
- Go outside. Walk outside your house and breathe in the fresh air. Get in the car and drive around (this is particularly effective during the holidays when the lights and decorations are plentiful. When driving during errands, put down your cell phone, ignore the road ragers (choosing a road less traveled can help with this), put on some good music and enjoy the ride.
- Laughter IS the best medicine. According to the Mayo Clinic, “Laughter is a great form of stress relief, and that’s no joke.” Research suggests laughing can lower stress hormones, decrease inflammation in your arteries, and raise your levels of high-density lipoprotein (HLD), also known as “good cholesterol.” There is more than one way to get your laughter quotient. Watch a funny movie or a comedy show. Text with a funny friend. Check out a fun video on YouTube.
Small changes can have a big impact: Making small changes to your diet can make a huge impact on your health. Harvard Health has a great list of small changes you can make that will make you healthier. Here are some other small, easy things you can do to make your diet healthier.
- Eat your breakfast. Start the day in a healthy way by reaching for fruit and veggies, whole grains like oatmeal and whole-wheat toast, lean protein like nut butters, turkey sausage and turkey bacon, and low-fat dairy products like skim milk and yogurt. It is better to eat fruit than drink fruit juice as fruit juice is mostly sugar.
- Consume heart healthy portions. Restaurants serve portions that are up to four times what a serving should be. The NIH has a great webpage on healthy serving sizes but it’s tough to look at a portion and be able to say that it’s the appropriate size. Measuring portions is a good plan; many people realize they’re overeating once they measure their portion sizes.
- Drink some tea. No magic is needed to brew up a cup of green or black tea. Drinking one to three cups of tea per day may help lower your risk of heart problems.
If you know you want to get healthier and you would like some guidance, UNC Lenoir Health Care can help. We have teams of experienced physicians and support staff that are here to answer your questions and help you work towards a healthier lifestyle. Please reach out to us and we can help you formulate a diet and exercise plan that will improve your heart health and get you on a path to a better lifestyle. Call us today at 252.522.7000 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We are here to help you live a long and healthy life.