February is American Heart Month! Our heart is responsible for just about everything that gives our body life, so needless to say – it’s a precious organ we need to care for on a daily basis! Here are 10 ways that you and your family can stay heart healthy not only this month, but every day!
1) Get Moving! Being physically active every day is fun and can improve the function of your heart. Plan and schedule opportunities for active play; for example, include a brisk 10-minute trip around the block after meals or a 10-minute walking break during the day. If your family enjoys active video games, select versions that require moving the body’s large muscle groups while playing.
2) Take a Snooze! Lack of sleep has been associated with elevated cholesterol and blood pressure. Adults need at least seven, but no more than nine hours of sleep at night to aid with the prevention of heart disease. Children need 10-12 hours of sleep per night. If you find that you or your family fall short of the recommended amount, develop bedtime routines for the whole family to assist with falling asleep faster and staying asleep.
3) Select Savory Seasonings. Rather than reaching for table salt next time you cook, choose spices, herbs, garlic, onion, vinegar or lemon juice to season foods. Herbs and spices offer lots of flavor to naturally enhance any dish.
4) Shape Up Your Favorite Recipes. Makeover your family’s favorite recipes by reducing saturated fat! There are a variety of ways to lower a recipe’s saturated fat intake without sacrificing taste. For example, use low-fat yogurt instead of sour cream. For more protein, use Greek yogurt!
5) Read Labels. Read food labels to learn more about what is in the package, select foods that have less than 1,000 mg of sodium per serving. Most of the sodium Americans eat is found in processed foods. Eat highly processed foods less often and in smaller portions—especially cheesy foods, such as pizza; cured meats, such as bacon, sausage, hot dogs, and deli/luncheon meats; and ready-to-eat foods, like canned chili, ravioli and soups. Fresh foods are generally lower in sodium. Dining out? Many restaurants offer their nutritional information on their website, on their menus and in their restaurants.
6) Go for Pink. Toss the table salt from your kitchen and replace with pink Himalayan salt. A great alternative to processed table salt, pink salt holds many health benefits thanks to its 84 minerals and trace elements! It can help with respiratory problems, balance the body’s pH levels and act as a natural digestive aid. And the benefits aren’t limited to the kitchen: pink salt can purify your air (thru use of a salt lamp). It’s high mineral content even helps encourage more restful sleep (Refer back to point #3 for the importance of sleep!). Did we mention it even make for a great body scrub?!
7) Know Your Blood Pressure. According to the CDC, lowering or maintaining normal blood pressure can greatly reduce your risk for heart disease and stroke. Revised blood pressure guidelines from American Heart Association reveal that 46% of Americans have high blood pressure. If you have been diagnosed with high blood pressure, the Y can help.
8) Choose Chocolate. Dark chocolate, that is ;) Yes, chocolate seems to boost heart health, thanks to its flavonoids, a type of antioxidant produced by plants. Flavonoids in cocoa have shown to help lower blood pressure, improve blood flow to the brain and heart, prevent blood clots, and fight cell damage. Dark chocolate has more cocoa and therefore more flavonoids than milk chocolate. It also has less unhealthy sugar and saturated fat. The higher the cocoa content of the bar, the better it is for your health. Look for bars with 70% cocoa or more. Not a dark chocolate fan? No worries! Flavonoids are also found in tea, red wine, blueberries, apples, pears, cherries, and nuts.
9) Live Tobacco-free. Many studies have shown that cigarette smoking is a major cause of coronary heart disease, which leads to heart attack. Looking to break this habit? Siteman Cancer Center offers some great strategies to increase the changes of successful quitting.
10) Play Together. Spending time together as a family is a great way to reduce stress, which is important to heart health. Make homemade valentines for your children’s classmates or build a snow fort together in the yard or the park. We have more fun ideas in our Snow Day Boredom Busters blog, so don't forget to try those too!