We refer to our hearts figuratively a lot. When there’s joy in our lives, we say our hearts are full. When there’s pain in our lives, we say our hearts are broken. We talk about following our hearts, opening our hearts, pouring out our hearts, and giving our hearts to the people we love. What we don’t always talk about so much, though, is our actual hearts. Our beating, biological, blood-pumping hearts.
On the other side of the love songs and poetry, our hearts tell another story in sobering prose. February is a month to celebrate our hearts symbolically, but as National Heart Month, it’s also a time to talk about how to take care of our hearts in a very literal way.
The heart of the problem.
While women have higher life expectancies overall, our risk for heart disease is virtually equal to that of men. And because heart disease can behave differently in women, it’s important to learn the right warning signs. From the American Heart Association’s “Go Red for Women” project, here’s some bad news you should know…and some good news you should use.
- Cardiovascular diseases and stroke cause 1 in 3 women’s deaths each year, killing approximately one woman every 80 seconds.
- 90% of women have one or more risk factors for heart disease or stroke.
- Women have a higher lifetime risk of stroke than men.
- Fewer women than men survive their first heart attack.
Ready for that good news? We’ll give it to you in one big, bold bullet point:
- 80% of heart disease and stroke events may be prevented by lifestyle changes and education.
So the statistics are scary, but the potential for prevention is pretty amazing. Taking care of yourself can be a lot harder in practice than it is on paper, though, which is why we’re here to help you add to your heart health tool belt (because you know, this isn’t paper…it’s the Internet).
Don’t go breakin’ your heart.
Most of us already have at least a high-level idea of how to maintain good heart health, but that doesn’t mean we don’t need to be reminded. So here are the basics…again.
- Eat well.
Whole grains, healthy fats, lean proteins, and fresh produce are what your heart craves. But when your taste buds crave Oreos, it can be hard to stay on track, especially when our society is basically a giant obstacle course of delicious garbage.
If you’re wondering how to keep heart healthy foods in your diet and aren’t sure where to start, a good rule of thumb is to do most of your grocery shopping around the perimeter of the store. Will you still be able to buy things that are bad for you without ever rolling your cart down an aisle? Sure. But at least you’ll have to get more creative about it.
- Exercise regularly.
“But I don’t have time!” you’re thinking. We feel you. It really is hard to find enough time (and energy) to move your body just for the sake of moving it. But if you zoom out to the big picture view and look all the time (and energy) you could be adding to your life by maintaining physical fitness, you might be a little more motivated to free up some space.
If you really don’t have the time (or the budget) for the gym, try to incorporate more physical activity into your daily life.
Walk instead of driving whenever you can. When you do drive, look for the bad parking spots…you know, the ones that are annoyingly far away from where you’re going.
Sprint to the mailbox. If anyone looks at you funny, just pretend to be really excited about your new IKEA catalog/upcoming dentist appointment reminder/water bill.
Next time your toddler tells a story, start doing jumping jacks at the beginning and don’t stop until he’s finished. You’ll have the resting heart rate of an Olympic hopeful in no time.
- Stress less.
Trying to eliminate stress can be, well…stressful.
What do we need to add to our lives to feel more fulfilled? (Maybe nothing.)
What do we need to take away? (Probably a lot.)
How the heck are we supposed to slow down when we’re already struggling to get everything done? (See above…and make a shorter list.)
Lowering stress levels requires you to confront the things that are causing the stress. If you hate your job, spruce up your resume and see what else is out there.
If you’re worried about how your family would get by if something happened to you, exhale your fears and find an affordable life insurance plan.
If you’ve taken on more than you can possibly carry, take a long, honest look at it all and see what you can let go of.
It takes some emotional effort, but the long term benefits are pretty fantastic.
- No smoking
This one is pretty self-explanatory…unless you’ve recently time traveled from the 1950s, you know how bad cigarettes are for you. But in addition to lung cancer, smoking also increases the risk of heart disease and stroke by 2 to 4 times...and female smokers are 25% more likely than male smokers to develop heart disease. Talk about a double dip of not worth it.
If you’re here at the bottom of this post feeling no more equipped to take care of your ticker than you did before, we’ll leave you with this handy cheat sheet.
10 ways to keep your heart healthy.
- Eat food that doesn’t make you feel like garbage.
- Choose healthy fats (yes, there are healthy fats).
- Shop from the edges of the grocery store. That’s where most of the real stuff is. And also the wine, which you should of course drink in moderation.
- Make time to go to the gym.
- If you can’t make time to go to the gym, just find ways to move your body more, even if you look ridiculous.
- Get rid of things you don’t need anymore, like floppy disks, jeans with excessive pocket bling, and stress.
- Try not to get stressed out about being stressed out.
- Don’t smoke. If you do smoke, get some help quitting, because it’s hard.
- Try not to breathe secondhand smoke. If people you love smoke, help them quit. (Because again…it’s hard.)
- Don’t do these 17 things. Yeah, we know that’s kind of a sneaky way to end a 10-item list…but your heart will thank us.