This guest post was written by Dr. Phoebe Ashley, a woman’s heart health expert.
Each day we remember to brush our teeth, take our vitamins, and hopefully floss (if we’re good). These routines become second nature to us because we know they’re good for our health. What we sometimes overlook are the daily steps we can take to protect one of the most important organs in our bodies, our hearts.
That’s what makes national observances like American Heart Month so important. It’s a time not only to raise awareness that heart disease is the No. 1 killer of men and women worldwide, but also to remind us that we can do something to stop it. Maintaining a healthy heart is a journey and making small daily changes now can add up to big results later.
Check your stats.
Knowing your cholesterol, weight, body mass index (BMI), blood sugar levels and blood pressure is key to understanding your overall heart health.
Stop by the doctor’s office and discuss the healthiest steps for you. In general, to maintain these numbers, limit your salt intake to less than 2,300 mg per day and cut down on sugary drinks and highly processed foods. When it comes to alcohol, limit your intake to 1 drink per day if you’re a woman, or 2 drinks per day if you’re a man. When it comes to smoking, just don’t do it. If you don’t know where to start, talk to a registered dietitian nutritionist who’d be happy to help build the right plan for you!
Give yourself a mental break.
Your mental health and your physical health are connected. If you’re feeling stressed or anxious, your blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar levels are more likely to rise, putting you at higher risk for heart health issues.
Go easy on yourself and take a break. Easier said than done? It could be as simple as reaching out and calling a friend or taking a walk. We all get a tremendous amount of positive hormonal release from interaction with other people. If not a friend, there are mindfulness coaches, doctors and counselors out there who’d be happy to talk to you!
Step outside and take a walk.
It’s no secret that your weight affects your mental and physical well-being. Excess weight can change your mood and increase your chances of developing problems linked to strokes and heart attack – such as high blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar levels.
So, go on that walk. Try to be physically active at least 30 minutes each day – more if you want to lose weight – and incorporate strength training two or three times per week. More than just for weight loss, exercise has been proven to help reduce depression and anxiety, making it a top way to lift your mood and improve your mental health.
Learn more about the American Heart Association’s physical activity recommendations.
Take extra care during pregnancy.
This is one that often surprises people. During pregnancy, your blood volume increases nearly 50 percent, meaning there is a lot more fluid pumping in and out of your heart. Pregnancy also causes abrupt changes in blood flow and pressure. Your doctor can help you monitor these changes and avoid serious heart problems.
Know your risks. Getting healthy before you become pregnant is the first step. If you want to become pregnant, ask your doctor for a pre-natal evaluation. This will give you a snapshot of how different aspects of your health stack up, allowing you time to work on any problem areas like blood sugar levels, exercise and nutrition. Even if you’re already pregnant, there’s still time to begin a walking program, start eating healthier, and get medicine if you need it. The earlier the better!
How will you commit to being Healthy for Good this Heart Month?
By Dr. Phoebe Ashley, a women’s heart health expert and assistant professor of medicine in the Division of Cardiology at the Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) Health Pauley Heart Center in Richmond, Virginia. Read her bio here.