Giving Your Heart a Helping Hand

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We’re in the midst of February, and Valentine’s Day is right around the corner. February happens to be American Heart Month (appropriately so), which means that it’s a good time to take stock of what you’re doing to ensure your heart stays as healthy as possible.

You might be thinking that you know what to do: keeping your blood glucose, cholesterol, and blood pressure in range; managing your weight; eating healthy; getting regular exercise; not smoking. Yes, these things are all important, and they’re worth paying attention to if you’re not on board. But there’s more you can do. These things aren’t that hard to do, either. Here’s the rundown:

Have a healthy relationship. Whether it be reconnecting with a friend or relative or spending more quality time with a spouse, girlfriend, or boyfriend, bonding with those you care about can directly impact your heart health. How so? One study showed that a healthy relationship cut the risk of having a heart attack in half in people who had already had a heart attack. And other research indicates that being with loved ones can lower blood pressure.

But beware: Stressful or unhappy relationships can wreak havoc with heart health, at least in women. Women in unhappy marriages are more likely to have a heart attack, need heart surgery, or die from heart disease than those living in wedded bliss.

Get a pet. Another way to help your heart is to get a pet. In one study, dog owners were 54% more likely to get the recommended amount of exercise compared to those without dogs. And having a pet may mean that your blood pressure and cholesterol will be lower, and you may be less likely to be overweight.

Break out. We all know that exercise is important for so many reasons, including heart health. Fitting it in to our schedules is another matter. Unfortunately, the trade-off for being sedentary (at least for men) is a higher risk of heart failure. Sitting on the couch or sitting at your desk all day isn’t doing you any favors. The good news? Taking short breaks, like getting up and walking around for a bit, can help counteract the lack of movement. So, even though you might not be an Olympian, you can still get off of the couch and move.

Sleep well. That’s not necessarily an easy thing for a lot of people. Getting enough good quality sleep eludes many people, especially those with diabetes. Sleep apnea, restless legs syndrome, peripheral neuropathy, and uncontrolled blood glucose levels can make getting enough sleep difficult. And a lack of sleep raises the risk for heart disease and for dying at an earlier age. Seek help from your provider if you think you have any of these conditions or if your treatment plan isn’t working. Aiming for about 8 hours of sleep each night is the goal.

Try some yoga. You might not think that yoga is for you, but in reality, it very well may be! Millions of people practice yoga, and for good reason. This ancient practice can help relieve stress and depression, ease back pain, improve sleep, and tone muscles. Researchers at Washington University School of Medicine found that people with atrial fibrillation (AF) who did yoga had an improvement in their symptoms compared to a period during which they took medicine but did not do yoga. Yoga may help other factors related to heart health, too, such as lowering blood pressure and cholesterol, increasing insulin sensitivity (which means lower blood glucose levels), and reducing stress. There are many different types of yoga, so if you’re interested, check out this article to find the type that may be best for you.

Choose blue. If there’s one fruit that should be a mainstay of your diet, that might be blueberries. All berries are great for you, but blueberries in particular can help with heart health by widening arteries and improving blood flow, lowering blood pressure, and lowering cholesterol levels. On top of that, blueberries contain substances called flavonoids, which can help ward off memory and cognition problems as we get older. One cup of fresh blueberries has just 84 calories and 21 grams of carbohydrate. If fresh is hard to find or too expensive, try frozen (making sure they’re not packed in a syrup).

Treat your heart right and you’ll hopefully be rewarded with good health. What better a Valentine’s Day gift than that?

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