Valentine’s Day is a day for romance, but how much love are you really showing yourself? Your heart works hard, beating over 100,000 times per day on average, every day of the year. Take care of yourself this season with a few no-fuss, heart-healthy tips that are easy to work into your life.
Keep active, even if you aren’t exercising.
How many people end up lamenting that they can’t get to a gym? Fortunately, you can keep active even if you can’t work out. Make space for little activity sessions throughout the day, even if it’s something as simple as taking the stairs or parking a little further away from your destination. If you have a job that keeps you stuck behind a desk, take a few minutes now and then for some simple cardio like marching in place or jumping jacks.
Make room for potassium.
Most people don’t get enough potassium, a key electrolyte. Some estimates say as many as 98% of Americans are potassium deficient! Low potassium can raise blood pressure and disrupt heart rhythm. Unfortunately, an extra banana a day won’t cut it — for real benefits, make room for potassium-rich foods like avocado, coconut water, spinach, sweet potato, and plain nonfat yogurt.
Skip the sodium.
While sodium is just as important as potassium, most people get far too much. Salting food for flavor isn’t usually the culprit, either; most excess sodium comes in the form of preservatives and other compounds used in packaged foods. It’s easy to cut down sodium by preparing meals using fresh ingredients, and balancing out your intake with lots of healthy, potassium-rich vegetables.
Keep your teeth healthy.
The human mouth has a lot of blood vessels. Unfortunately, it also has a lot of nooks and crannies where dangerous bacteria can set up shop. Conditions like gum disease or dental abscesses can dramatically increase the risk of heart problems by introducing bacteria into the bloodstream, as well as by increasing inflammation within the body. Brush and floss twice a day, no less than an hour after eating, to keep your teeth and your heart in good shape.
Get enough (good quality) sleep.
Sleep is when the body repairs itself, and not getting enough quality sleep can set you up for serious problems — heart disease included. Research shows that getting less than six hours per night may increase a person’s risk of heart attack or stroke. Relying on alarms to wake up in the morning may be harmful, too, as the jolt of adrenaline can send the heart into overdrive. Strive for a full night’s sleep every night, and, if you find yourself feeling tired or headachy in the morning, get evaluated for sleep apnea. Breathing problems do not just reduce the quality of sleep; the lack of oxygen can trigger heart problems on its own.
Stay away from smoke.
Not smoking is one of the best things you can do for your cardiovascular health, but, even if you don’t smoke, you might not be completely out of the woods. Even if you aren’t smoking directly, environmental smoke can have negative effects on your heart. Secondhand smoke alone contributes to over 30,000 premature deaths due to heart disease every year, and people with existing high cholesterol are much more likely to experience plaque buildup when exposed to smoke. If you don’t smoke, stay away from it. If you do smoke, quit – you will be saving your life, and the lives of those around you.
Lastly, see your doctor.
There is a reason why high blood pressure is called a “silent killer” — most of the time, it creeps up without any noticeable symptoms. Schedule an appointment with your doctor for a basic heart health screening, so you can catch any minor problems before they require serious intervention. You doctor can help you make lifestyle adjustments that will help protect your heart.
Taking care of your heart isn’t just a good habit, it is a way to show those around you that you care. Incorporate as many of these tips as you can into your healthy lifestyle, and show your heart some love this Valentine’s Day.