You know February as the month of Valentine’s Day, but are you aware that it’s also National Heart Month? As a physician, I recommend you celebrate both occasions by giving your heart a little extra love and attention.
Your heart is so important: it quite literally keeps you alive by pumping the blood that provides the oxygen and nutrients you need to function. And yet, cardiovascular disease claims more lives in the U.S. each year than all forms of cancer combined.
Fortunately, as I like to tell my patients, you have a lot of power over your heart disease risk factors.
What are those risk factors? The top 3 are high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and smoking. Diabetes and excess weight also increase your risk of heart disease. Everyday lifestyle choices around eating, physical activity, stress, and sleep make a difference, too.
As a lifestyle physician, I consider all these elements––and the whole body––when making recommendations. So, let’s look at four whole-body strategies that can help you feel better and reduce your risk of heart disease.
1. Opt for whole, natural foods
Enjoy real foods like fruit, vegetables, whole grains, beans, and protein sources like lean poultry and fish. They’re packed with nutrients, fiber, vitamins, and minerals without the added calories, sugar, and salt found in highly processed, packaged foods.
Highly processed foods contribute to weight gain and negatively affect blood sugar, cholesterol, and blood pressure. Eating foods closer to their natural state reduces inflammatory load on the body, helping to keep your heart healthy and strong.
2. Move more
All kinds of physical activity help reduce cardiovascular disease risk. Whether it’s walking, swimming, biking, resistance training, dancing, or anything else––do what you enjoy, and reap the benefits of lowering your blood pressure, diabetes, and even cancer risk.
Remember, moving a little bit is better than not moving at all! Start where you are and build up activity minutes slowly over time.
3. Manage stress and rest
Use your Wondr program tools like deep breathing, the body scan, and mindfulness practices to reduce stress. Aim to get 7-8 hours of restorative sleep and set a bedtime alarm to help make that happen.
If you smoke, try to stop. And if you drink alcohol, limit your consumption to no more than a serving a day. Need some extra support? Consult your healthcare provider to identify resources to help you meet your goal.
4. Know your numbers
Meeting with your healthcare provider on a routine basis to check your “numbers” (blood pressure, cholesterol, blood sugar, and waist circumference) is an essential part of a good heart disease prevention plan. And as you continue to make small changes around food, physical activity, sleep, and stress management, you’ll see the positive impact they can have on your metrics.
Why do we recommend tracking waist circumference? Because it’s not just extra weight but where you carry it that can be harmful. Visceral fat––the kind stored around your midsection and abdominal organs––increases inflammation in the body. Inflammation in turn increases your risk for insulin resistance, which can lead to Type 2 diabetes––a heart disease risk factor.
Here’s the great news: What you’re learning and putting into practice in the Wondr program helps lower your risks and raise your quality of life. Losing as little as 5-10% of your weight can greatly reduce your cardiovascular risk. Your daily habits are not just the foundation for a healthy weight but for a healthy heart.
The best valentine you could give to your heart would be to focus on incorporating these whole-body strategies in your life. What’s one small step you could take today that could make a big difference for your long-term health?