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Heart health in focus

It’s time to start thinking seriously about heart health. We mean it – enough of the heart-shaped boxes and cute cards you see during holidays like Valentine’s Day. We want you to love your heart. We shared ways you can have a heart-friendly Valentine’s Day in the past, but let’s face it: keeping your heart healthy is something you should do all year long.

You may not know it, but heart disease is the leading cause of death among both men and women. That scary statistic – and the fact that many contributing factors to heart disease are preventable  – is why the month of February is devoted to heart health.

How do you keep your heart strong? Here are 5 tips to get you started.

Know your numbers

Getting a health screening is a great way to see a snapshot of some key health factors – like blood pressure and cholesterol – that show if your heart needs a little TLC now to improve your vitality down the road. Get to know the terms and talk to your doctor about your numbers.

  • Blood pressure is the force of blood against your artery walls. High blood pressure, or hypertension, is the leading cause of heart disease and stroke. Even scarier is that fact that, oftentimes, high blood pressure has no symptoms, making routine checks important.
  • Most nurses check your blood pressure each time you visit the doctor, or you can monitor yours with a device at home. Worried about your number? Check out these questions to ask your doctor. And ease the strain on your heart by lowering your salt intake, being active and practicing ways de-stress.
  • Too much cholesterol – a fat-like substance in your blood – builds up in the walls of your arteries and increases your risk of developing heart disease. Your total cholesterol should be less than 200 mg/dL for good heart health. Delicious and satisfying whole grains, like oats, provide the nutrients to lower bad cholesterol and help lower heart disease risk.
  • Elevated blood sugar, diabetes, also increases your risk of heart disease. Screening for diabetes is available at most provider offices. Excellent treatment of insulin-requiring diabetes, has been shown to decrease chances of heart disease. Lifestyle changes can avoid diabetes type 2, so why not start today?

Stay smoke-free

You are doing your heart a huge favor by avoiding any kind of smoking, including second-hand smoke. Smoking accelerates artery clogging that cause heart attacks and stroke.

Be more active

We all know that sitting is killing us. Stand up for your heart and get moving. Keep your ticker pumping by walking 10,000 steps a day – that’s the number the American Heart Association recommends walking to help reduce the risk of heart disease. Nurture your heart – and boost your step count – doing whatever activity you like. Whether you’re trekking through nature’s beauty on a hike or vacuuming vigorously when you can’t quite squeeze in 20 minutes at the gym, the key is to move more.

Eat better

What you eat can weigh heavily on your heart. Vow to ditch processed foods and opt for real, good fat this February. Say what? Swap the lard that clogs your insides and use olive or coconut oil instead. These oils are rich in monounsaturated fats, which help lower LDL (bad) cholesterol. Avocados and other healthy fats, like beans and whole grains, are great for an energy-boosting snack to keep your heart thumping throughout the day.

Remember – the core of eating for a healthy heart includes:

  • Fruits and vegetables
  • Fiber, including cereals
  • Whole grain products (these are foods with a lower sugar load)
  • Monounsaturated fat such as olive and canola oils
  • Omega-3 fatty acids (salmon, trout, tuna and mackerel, or supplements)

And when you’re craving something sweet, reach for those dark chocolate goodies you covet so. Not only is this sweet treat good for your heart, it comes with an antioxidant boost. Cacao is rich in flavonoids, which have been shown to help lower blood pressure, cholesterol and reduce other risk factors for heart disease. Dark chocolate offers the most antioxidant benefits, so look for products with a 40 to 70% cacao or cocoa bean content and no milk added. Milk chocolate is not a good antioxidant source because milk binds to the antioxidant, meaning there are no age-defying nutrients left for your body to use. Disclaimer: Don’t go overboard here. Treat yourself to the recommended serving of one ounce per day.

Make your heart go pitter patter with this delicious heart-healthy chocolate mousse – perfect on its own or as a dip for your fave fruit.

Open your heart

Above all, remember to open your heart to others and give gratitude all year long. A healthy ticker is only as good as the emotional state of the body surrounding it. Spread your love – volunteer, read bedtime books to your kids, mentor, whatever it is that makes you tick – and your healthy heart will be full.

Nicole Cantley
Nicole Cantley

Communications Specialist

Nicole is a communications specialist at Blue Cross NC. She loves inspiring others through employee stories.

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