Heart disease is still the number one killer of men and women in the United States.
Most people spend Valentine’s Day showering their loved ones with chocolates, conversation hearts and romantic dinners. But Valentine’s Day, which occurs during American Heart Month, should also stand as a reminder to love your own heart too.
Here are the top 10 ways you can give your heart some love this Valentine’s Day.
Add heart-healthy foods to your diet
One of the best ways to boost your heart health and show it some love is to eat heart-healthy foods. Fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains and foods that contain healthy fats like avocado, salmon and nuts are the best fuel to treat your heart right.
Maintain a healthy weight
Being overweight or obese increases your risk for heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure and many other diseases. One way to determine if you are overweight or obese is to measure your body mass index (BMI). Your BMI is an estimate of your body fat, calculated using your height and weight. A BMI from 25 to 29.9 is considered overweight; a BMI of 30 or higher is considered obese. Importantly, your BMI doesn’t account for muscle mass, which can skew the measurement. That’s why it’s also important to talk to your doctor about maintaining a healthy weight.
Get an annual physical
Getting a checkup each year gives you the best shot at preventing diseases or catching other health problems, such as high blood pressure and high cholesterol, early. An annual physical is also the time to get recommended screenings based on your age, gender and family history.
Know your blood pressure and cholesterol numbers
High blood pressure and cholesterol are two major risk factors for heart disease. So it’s vital to know your numbers and get your blood pressure and cholesterol checked from time to time.
You should have your cholesterol checked every five years with a simple blood test. If you have high cholesterol, your doctor will develop a plan to lower it and monitor it more often.
You’ll likely have your blood pressure checked each time you visit the doctor. If you have high blood pressure, your doctor will work with you to determine how often it should be checked.
It’s a fact: Smoking is the most preventable cause of early death in the U.S. Smoking lowers your good cholesterol and increases your risk for blood clots, heart disease and stroke. Smoking also causes several types of cancer. Quitting smoking is difficult but well worth the effort to keep your heart healthy and prevent a myriad of other diseases.
You may have read that moderate drinking is good for you, but many doctors are hesitant to give the green light on opening that bottle of wine. The reason? They question the research that suggests that having a few drinks is healthy, thinking the benefits attributed to drinking may actually be due to other lifestyle factors.
The best way to keep your heart healthy is to limit your alcohol intake. If you don’t drink, it’s best not to start. Drinking regularly can lead to cardiomyopathy, increase your blood pressure, and even cause an irregular heartbeat.
Aim for at least seven hours of sleep
The better you sleep at night, the better off your heart will be. A study by the American Heart Association showed that a poor night’s sleep was linked to an increased risk of heart disease. Getting enough sleep will also increase your productivity and give you more energy throughout the day.
Taking time to relax and relieve stress is another way to give your heart some love. Prolonged stress can raise your blood pressure. And when you’re stressed out, you might be more likely to bypass that workout, reach for a cigarette, eat comfort foods or drink alcohol.
Limit your sodium
Sodium lurks in foods you may eat often, including canned soup, jars of spaghetti sauce and lunch meat. Having too much sodium in your diet can lead to heart disease and high blood pressure. Read labels and keep your sodium intake below 2,300 mg each day.
Charles D. Peters Jr., MD, is a non-invasive cardiologist at the Pearsall Heart Hospital, Geisinger Wyoming Valley Medical Center.