February is here and that means that love is in the air!
Heart health goes deeper than simply watching what you eat. Keep your heart living and loving for years to come with these tips:
• Maintain or develop a healthy circadian rhythm. Circadian rhythm is basically your internal clock that controls everything from sleeping to waking to eating to digesting. Numerous scientific studies have shown that lack of sleep and/or lack of good quality sleep contribute to the risk of developing cardiovascular disease (as well as other chronic conditions, including depression). To enhance your sleep quality, decrease exposure to artificial lights (TVs, computers, phones) at night and keep your bedroom cool and dark. Get outside for at least a few minutes every morning. Exposure to early morning (before 9 am) sunlight has been shown to improve the sleep wake cycle. Avoid caffeine in the afternoon and evening. Engage in regular exercise daily.
• Practice thoughtful eating. Fad diets, supplements, and meal replacements-oh my! Weight loss products are a billion-dollar industry. Stick with what is tried and true. Eat foods that closely resemble how they are found in nature, meaning, limit packaged and processed foods. Increase your fruit and vegetable consumption to at least 5 servings (combined) per day. Cut down on excessive meat, fat, and protein. Increase your consumption of (naturally occurring) soluble fiber, found in oats, beans, barley, sweet potatoes, blueberries, apples, and pears. Eat a little less and move a little more every day.
• Maintain and/or develop healthy social relationships. A long term study of over 9000 British civil servants showed that healthy social relationships lead to better health, especially cardiovascular health and that unhealthy relationships are often a key prognostic factor for heart attack. Commit to working on the relationships that you have and develop the relationships that are emerging in your life.
• Engage in regular physical activity on most days of the week. Research shows that adults who engage in two and a half hours per week of moderate intensity physical activity, such as walking, had a 14 percent lower risk of coronary heart disease than adults who reported no physical activity. Adults who engaged in five hours per week of moderate intensity physical activity had a 20 percent lower risk of coronary heart disease than adults who reported no physical activity. Aim to exercise on most days of the week for a cumulative 60 minutes per day.
• Help others. According to a study by the University of Michigan, people who volunteer at least 40 hours per year were likely to live a full seven and a half years longer than those who did not volunteer. Altruism, as defined as “a motivational state with the ultimate goal of increasing another’s welfare” has a physiologically measurable effect. Adults who participate in altruistic activities, such as volunteering, have an increase in immunoglobulin A, a critical antibody that hedges against illness. Pet shelters, nursing homes, kids’ sports organizations, the YMCA, veterans’ organizations, literacy organizations, meal-donation agencies, faith based organizations, and many children’s programs put volunteers to good use. Forty hours per year is a commitment of less than 1 hour per week.