Valentine’s Day is not the only reason to think about your heart this month. February is also American Heart Month — an essential part of the public health calendar since 1964, raising awareness about cardiovascular disease and encouraging everyone to embrace a heart-healthy lifestyle.
While adults 65 and older are more likely than younger people to suffer from cardiovascular disease, many heart conditions are preventable. Here are some simple steps you can take this February (and beyond) to improve your heart health:
Stress hits everyone from time to time, and we know that not all stressors are dangerous or undesirable. Oftentimes, stress is linked to illnesses, a lack of sleep or emotional concerns (financial, relational, etc.) When high stress or anxiety is chronic and left unchecked, it can put extra pressure on your cardiovascular system and increase your risk of heart disease. Studies suggest that elevated cortisol levels can increase blood pressure, cholesterol and triglycerides.
Relaxation is the best medicine for stress, and it's a skill that everyone can sharpen. Simple prayer or meditation practice, such as slowing down your breathing and focusing on pleasing thoughts and images, can lower your blood pressure when practiced regularly. Listen to your body and find your own ways to put every day cares into perspective, whether it’s progressive muscle relaxation, yoga or simply watching the sunset from your yard.
Not feeling Zen? Other ways to reduce stress include having a good laugh (which increases oxygen, relieves tension and lightens the stress response) and listening to music (which can lower blood pressure, heart rate and cortisol levels).
You probably don’t need a reminder that a diet rich in fruits, vegetables and whole grains, and low in fat and sodium, is one of the keys to a healthy heart. But if you've been cycling through the same rotation of nutritious meals for as long as you can remember, you may need some inspiration.
Ask friends and family members to share their favorite heart-healthy recipes and seek out seasonal and organic ingredients to use when cooking them. You can find a wealth of suggestions online, from budget-friendly or low-sodium options to vegetarian fare and Mediterranean-inspired dishes.
Sweet tooth? Some treats can be heart-healthy, too! Dark chocolate, for example, contains several compounds and nutrients that boost your immune and cardiovascular systems.
Older adults should do at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise every week to maintain good heart health. That’s about two-and-a-half hours, which is easily spread out over a week. If you're not hitting that target, why not make February the month you get moving? Procrastination is harder when there's someone working alongside you, so consider teaming up with a friend to set some dual goals for the year.
If you’re struggling to find an activity buddy, it could be time for a change of scene. One of the advantages of a retirement community like The Village at Providence Point—A National Lutheran Community is that you’re surrounded by peers, have access to a wealth of scheduled activities and have built-in fitness programs to support your goals.
How can you raise awareness about American Heart Month and cardiovascular health simply by exercising your thumbs? By posting on social media using the #OurHearts hashtag. None of us is on a solo journey, although sometimes it may feel that way. If you’re looking for ideas, motivation or away to encourage others, social media might be a great place to start.
For sample posts and inspirational self-care quotes, check out the social media resources page on the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute’s website.
Maintaining a healthy heart is less about ticking boxes marked “exercise” or “diet” and more about achieving growth along the five dimensions of wellness — physical, intellectual, social, emotional and spiritual. You could exercise several hours per day, but if you’re feeling bored or lonely, any benefits to your heart health could be lost.
With access to state-of-the-art fitness amenities and programming to lifelong learning opportunities and social events, residents can feel good about all aspects of their lives — the ideal recipe for a long, healthy retirement.
Contact us today to find out more about heart-healthy living at The Village at Providence Point.