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February is National Heart Month, and there’s no better time to make lifestyle changes to keep your heart happy and healthy! Diet, exercise, controlling stress, and getting enough sleep are all factors that can play a big role in maintaining good heart health and preventing cardiometabolic disease.

Making small changes to your daily routine for better heart health is doable! By committing to these four simple “do’s” each day, you are helping your heart health for life.

Do Eat a Healthy Diet

Diet is one of the most important lifestyle factors contributing to optimal heart health. According to Thomas A. Gaziano, MD, an “ideal” diet can help reduce the risk of cardiovascular diseases, including heart attacks and strokes, by up to 20%. [1] Consuming a Mediterranean diet high in fruits and vegetables plays a vital role in preventing certain heart diseases. In addition, it’s also important to limit unhealthy saturated fats, added sugars, sodium, and to practice “portion control.”

Creating daily menus can help prevent diet pitfalls. For example, replacing unhealthy and fatty or fried foods with leaner options is a good way to implement a heart-healthy diet. When you’re tempted to reach for that breakfast pastry, choose avocado on whole grain toast instead!

Do Exercise Daily

Staying active is essential to improve your heart health. While the CDC recommends getting 150 minutes of moderate physical activity weekly [2], as little as 60 minutes can be beneficial to staying healthy. In fact, spreading out exercise over the course of a week can amount to just twenty-five minutes each day. [3]

Building activities into your daily routine, such as taking a walk during lunch or exercising while watching television, is a doable time commitment for most. While aerobic exercise is best for strengthening your heart, all movement matters! What matters most is that you find activities you enjoy, whether walking, skiing, biking, hiking or gardening, do them regularly. Even a little bit of daily movement adds up to big health rewards.

Do Manage Stress Mindfully

Finding healthy ways to manage and handle stress can help reduce high blood pressure and be effective in minimizing the risk of heart disease. Knowing how to control stress can also lower your chances of heart disease overall, as well as chest pain, irregular heartbeat, and the formation of blood clots. [4]

Stress often comes from emotions that make you engage in behaviors that are detrimental to heart health, such as smoking, drinking excessively, or overeating. Instead of falling into unhealthy patterns when you’re stressed, consider healthy alternatives, including meditation and mindfulness or other relaxation techniques, exercising, and connecting with loved ones. These are easy ways to reduce and control stress, as well as lead to a happy heart (and mind!)

Do Get Enough Sleep Each Night

While it may seem like a challenge with your busy schedule, getting enough sleep each night is crucial for heart health. In fact, getting seven or more hours of good-quality sleep every night can help reduce the risk of high blood pressure, type II diabetes, and obesity. [5]

A few small adjustments can help you stay on track. Keeping a regular sleeping schedule, avoiding heavy foods, alcohol, and caffeine before bedtime, and exercising regularly are important to maintaining healthy sleep patterns for optimal heart health.

The bottom line is that by doing positive things that support your health and wellbeing rather than constantly thinking about “don’ts” and “shouldn’ts” will help your heart in every way.

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[1] Erin Michael (December 31, 2019). Poor diet tied to $50.4b in costs from cardiometabolic diseases. Healio Primary Care. Retrieved from  https://www.healio.com/primary-care/nutrition-and-fitness/news/online/%7Bfb05196a-2097-443c-a4fe-f6e2e06a458a%7D/poor-diet-tied-to-504b-in-costs-from-cardiometabolic-diseases

[2] Dennis Bruemmer, MD (January 16, 2020). CDC: More than 15% of US adults physically inactive. Healio Primary Care. Retrieved from  https://www.healio.com/primary-care/nutrition-and-fitness/news/online/%7Be52188a8-d3db-4af6-b553-bf96852296d7%7D/cdc-more-than-15-of-us-adults-physically-inactive

[3] National Heart Lung and Blood Institute (no date). NHBLI Publications and Resources. Retrieved from  https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health-topics/all-publications-and-resources/move-more-making-physical-activity-routine

[4] James Beckerman, MD, FACC (March 2, 2019). Heart Disease and Stress: What’s the Link? Webmd.com. Retrieved from  https://www.webmd.com/heart-disease/guide/stress-heart-disease-risk

[5] No author. (December 3, 2018). How Does Sleep Affect Your Heart Health? CDC Features Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/features/sleep-heart-health/index.html