Heart disease is the number one cause of death in the world. While some of us may be genetically predisposed to heart disease, for many people, it can be preventable. There are many factors that can contribute to the development of heart disease. On the other hand, there are many things you can do to aid in preventing heart disease. This February, the J is celebrating American Heart Month with tips to keep your heart strong and healthy. Here are some things you can do this February and all year long to help prevent heart disease. 

Don’t Smoke 

Missouri is one of the top 10 states for smoking-related deaths. Smoking damages the lining of your arteries, leading to a buildup of fatty material which narrows the artery. This can cause angina, a heart attack, or a stroke. 

The carbon monoxide in tobacco smoke reduces the amount of oxygen in your blood, which means your heart has to pump harder to supply the body with the oxygen it needs. The nicotine in cigarettes stimulates your body to produce adrenaline, which makes your heart beat faster and raises your blood pressure, making your heart work harder.

The best thing you can do to protect your health is to quit smoking. Start by setting a quit date and let loved ones know so they can provide support. 

Consider using nicotine replacement therapies such as patches, gum, or medication. Practice stress management techniques like exercise, meditation, or deep breathing exercises to handle cravings. 

Lastly, avoid triggers that make you want to smoke and replace the smoking habit with a healthy one, such as drinking water or eating a piece of fruit. Remember, it’s never too late to quit, and your heart will thank you for it.

Stay Physically Active

Physical activity plays a pivotal role in maintaining heart health and preventing heart disease. In our modern world, many of us lead sedentary lives, spending long hours sitting at desks for work or lounging on the couch during downtime. 

This lack of movement can contribute to numerous health issues, including obesity, high blood pressure, and elevated cholesterol levels, all of which increase the risk of heart disease. Therefore, it’s vital to make physical activity a part of our daily routine.

The American Heart Association recommends at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity per week. A combination of both works, too!

Ideally, this should be spread throughout the week. Regular exercise helps control weight, reduces blood pressure, improves circulation, and strengthens the heart muscles. 

At the J, we understand the importance of keeping your heart healthy. That’s why we offer a variety of group exercise classes, including special events throughout February, which is National Heart Month. Whether you prefer yoga, spinning, Zumba, or strength training, we have something to get your heart pumping. 

For those seeking a more personalized approach, we also offer personal training sessions tailored to your fitness level and goals. Engaging in regular exercise not only benefits your heart but also boosts your overall health and well-being. Remember, every step, jump, or lap counts when it comes to your heart health. So, come join us at the J, and let’s get moving!

Reduce Alcohol Intake

Regular alcohol consumption can lead to a variety of heart-related issues that contribute to heart disease. Drinking alcohol raises the level of triglycerides, a type of fat in your blood. High levels of triglycerides contribute to the risk of developing heart disease. 

Moreover, excessive alcohol use can lead to high blood pressure, a major risk factor for heart disease, as well as cardiomyopathy, a disease of the heart muscle that can lead to heart failure.

Additionally, alcohol is calorie-dense, contributing to obesity and the associated risks of heart disease. It can also interfere with the balance of fats in your blood, leading to higher levels of “bad” LDL cholesterol and lower levels of “good” HDL cholesterol. Lastly, heavy drinking can lead to the formation of blood clots, increasing the risk of heart attack or stroke.

To reduce your alcohol intake, you might consider setting specific drinking goals for yourself each week and keeping a diary of your drinking habits to identify patterns and triggers. Opt for alcohol-free days during the week to break up your routine. 

When socializing, try alternating alcoholic drinks with non-alcoholic ones, or choose smaller servings such as a bottle of beer instead of a pint or a small glass of wine instead of a large one. Making these simple changes can significantly reduce your alcohol intake and help protect your heart health. Remember, moderation is key when it comes to alcohol consumption.

Manage Stress

Stress management is a crucial aspect of preventing heart disease. Recent studies have shown that stress can significantly contribute to the acceleration of atherosclerosis. This condition occurs when arteries harden due to fat and cholesterol build-up, acting as a trigger for acute cardiovascular disease events. 

Long-term stress, marked by high levels of cortisol, can increase blood cholesterol, triglycerides, blood sugar, and blood pressure. All of these symptoms are common risk factors for heart disease.

Moreover, stress can lead to inflammation in the body, which is linked to factors such as high blood pressure and lower HDL cholesterol that can adversely affect heart health. 

To protect your heart health, it’s essential to employ effective stress management strategies. Regular physical activity, a balanced diet, and adequate sleep can all help reduce stress levels. Techniques such as meditation, deep breathing, and yoga have been shown to reduce heart disease risk factors. 

Lastly, finding healthy ways to cope with stress, such as pursuing hobbies, spending time with loved ones, or seeking professional help when needed, can mitigate the harmful effects of stress on heart health. Remember, maintaining a positive mindset and managing stress effectively are key components of heart-healthy living.

Eat Heart-Healthy Foods

Eating a heart-healthy diet is one of the best ways to fight against heart disease. Here are some of the most heart-healthy foods:

  • Berries: Berries such as blueberries, strawberries, and raspberries are packed with antioxidants, which can reduce inflammation and oxidative stress, both of which contribute to heart disease.
  • Fatty Fish: Fish like salmon, mackerel, and sardines are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which have been shown to lower blood pressure, reduce blood clotting, and decrease stroke and heart failure risk.
  • Whole Grains: Foods like brown rice, oatmeal, and whole grain bread are high in dietary fiber, which can help reduce LDL cholesterol and decrease the risk of heart disease.
  • Nuts and Seeds: Almonds, walnuts, chia seeds, and flaxseeds are rich in fiber and heart-healthy fats, helping to lower bad cholesterol levels and improve heart health.
  • Leafy Green Vegetables: Spinach, kale, and collard greens are high in vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants that promote heart health. They’re also high in dietary nitrates, which can help reduce blood pressure and improve the function of the blood vessels.
  • Avocados: These are rich in monounsaturated fats, which can help lower levels of  LDL cholesterol while raising HDL cholesterol levels.
  • Dark Chocolate: This decadent treat is rich in antioxidants like flavonoids, which can help boost heart health. However, it’s important to choose dark chocolate that contains at least 70% cocoa and to consume it in moderation due to its high-calorie content.
  • Tomatoes: Tomatoes are high in the heart-healthy antioxidant lycopene. They’re also a great source of vitamin C, potassium, and folate, which are important for heart health.

Remember, while incorporating these foods into your diet can boost heart health, managing stress and engaging in regular physical activity are also key to reducing the risk of heart disease.

Join us at the J throughout the month of February for heart-healthy tips and activities to keep you feeling healthy and strong all year long!