In February, everything is all about HEARTS. Heart-shaped candies, heart-covered greeting cards, hearts swirled into your latte’s milk foam… Surrounded by heart-themed everything, no one could possibly forget that this month also brings Valentine’s Day. (Okay, there was that one time your friend’s significant other forgot it, but that’s a whole different story for another article.)
While most of us remember Valentine’s Day, people do forget another February heart theme that’s arguably far more important than which restaurants still have openings for a table for two on February 14 – and that’s that February is American Heart Month. Candlelit dinners are great, no doubt about it, but understanding and safeguarding your heart's health is what’s going to keep you around to dine with your loved ones for years to come.
Why American Heart Month Matters For Women
Heart disease is the #1 killer of women, but according to the American Heart Association, only 1 in 5 women believe this to be the case. It’s a frightening disconnect, but it might not be all that surprising. After all, a staggering 90% of women today have one or more heart disease or stroke risk factors, but many of these risk factors are symptom-free – that is, you wouldn’t know by look or feel that you were at increased risk.
We go through each day trying to make positive decisions for ourselves, but this February, it’s time to rally together with our female friends and loved ones to raise awareness and focus our daily decisions more pointedly on heart health.
Know And Decrease Your Risk Factors
Heart disease is dangerous, and it’s prevalent. But the good thing is that your risk for developing heart disease – a condition affected by lifestyle choices – is largely in your own hands. You can drastically decrease your risk by taking control of the way you live your life each day.
How? There are lots of specific changes you can make, but let’s make it easy. This February, focus on these three biggies:
1. Eat For Your Heart
When we’re talking about lifestyle changes to diminish any type of chronic disease risk, diet is always going to be part of the conversation. (You probably saw this one coming.) Food choices are especially important, however, when we’re talking about heart disease. Maintaining a healthy weight, cholesterol level and blood pressure – all factors majorly impacted by food choices – are essential to keeping your risk as low as it can be. Don’t worry – heart-healthy foods are delicious. Try regularly incorporating the foods and beverages in this top ten list. (Yes, red wine is on there. So is coffee. It’s all about moderation, my friends.)
2. Work For Your Heart
Regular exercise has been shown to improve human health on so many levels, both physically and mentally. It’s especially important for your heart. What exercise should you do? Activities that get your heart beating faster than it does while you’re sitting at your desk are generally good for your heart. After all, it’s a muscle, and muscles get stronger when you make them work.
These are great forms of physical activity to try, but in the end, do anything that gets you up and moving and that you enjoy. If you dread working out, you’re not likely to do it regularly, and it’s regular exercise that keeps your heart at its strongest.
3. Zen For Your Heart
Yes, food choices are key for heart health (and this post was written by a dietitian). But my favorite strategy to focus on for heart health isn’t as tangible. Stress has been shown again and again to have detrimental effects on physical health. So, for American Heart Month (and for the rest of your happy, healthy life), do yourself a big favor, and destress.
Sure, it’s easier said than done, but consider all the things in your life that stress you out, and then think about how you can change them. Or, if changing them isn’t possible or practical, figure out how to adjust your daily routine and make time to settle your mind.
Whether it’s a mid-afternoon stroll around the block, five minutes of breathing exercises or a cell-phones-off dinner with the family, do something to bring you back to the things in your life that really matter. Your heart will thank you.
What else can you do to fight heart disease? Support the organizations that are making huge differences in women’s lives every day. You may have noticed on the first Friday of the month that lots of people were wearing red. Go Red For Women raises awareness about heart disease and supports the fight against it. While February 3 was National Wear Red Day, you can learn more and donate to the cause any time.
Kristen Wilk, MS, RDN
Hi! My name is Kristen, and I’m a registered dietitian nutritionist. I’m a contributor to Womensforum, and I also work for Pre Brands. In this and former roles, I’ve worked with a variety of food and beverage companies. Thoughts and opinions presented here are my own.