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Follow these seven easy tips to be sweet to your heart during February—American Heart Month

By Dr. David Gregg, StayWell chief medical officer

You only have one heart—and you want to keep it at its healthiest. While you can’t do anything about some heart disease risks—like your age or sex or family history—you can make small changes in your daily habits to lower your risk.

Quit smoking for good

Stop smoking. It’s a major cause of heart disease. Ask your doctor about medications, counseling, and programs—like Freedom From Smoking®—that can help you quit. Over time, you’ll gradually have the same risk for heart disease as a nonsmoker.

Move it and lose it

Just 30 minutes of exercise five times a week can help lower your blood pressure and cholesterol, and manage your weight. Take a walk with a friend, play tag with your kids or grandkids, put on your favorite song and dance—it all adds up.

Waist not

You’ve probably heard of body mass index (BMI), which tells you if you’re at a healthy weight for your height. But watch your waist, too. People with extra body fat, especially “visceral” fat around their middle, are more likely to develop heart disease or diabetes. Measure your waist at the top of your hip bones. If it’s over 35 inches (women) or over 40 inches (men), whittle your middle with diet and exercise.

Create a heart-healthy plate

Choose fruits and vegetables, lean meats such as chicken and fish (try to eat salmon, tuna, or mackerel at least twice a week), and whole grains. Cut down on fats, salt, and alcohol—limit salt to about one teaspoon per day, and limit daily alcohol drinks to one per day for women and two per day for men.

Spend more time at “om”

Calm your stress through mind-body activities like meditation. It can support your heart in many ways, from helping you better cope with stress to lowering your blood pressure. And it’s always a better stress reducer than turning to unhealthy habits like smoking or overeating.

Know your numbers

Your doctor will schedule the following screening tests to provide a better picture of your heart health. This is a recommended schedule for initial tests and for repeated tests if prior levels were normal. You may also be able to complete some of these tests at your workplace.

  • Blood pressure: Check at each regular health care visit, or at least once every two years starting at age 20
  • HDL cholesterol: Check at least every five years starting at age 20
  • Triglycerides: Check at least every five years starting at age 20
  • Waist circumference: Measure at each regular health care visit, along with BMI
  • Fasting blood glucose: Check at every three years starting at age 45

Don’t let unhealthy numbers add up

Each of these risk factors is important on its own. But if three or more of these risk factors have numbers that are out of range, pay even closer attention to them. You may meet the definition for metabolic syndrome, which significantly raises your risk for diabetes, heart disease, and stroke.

If you’re doing everything you can to follow healthier behaviors and lower your risk, but there’s still room to improve, talk to your doctor about whether medications might help.

Get started

You don’t have to tackle all seven tips at once. Even if you can improve in one or two areas, you’re headed in the right direction. Of course, the more tips you follow, the better for your heart. 

Looking for more ways to boost your heart health—while managing and improving your mental health? Download our groundbreaking StayWell VR meditation app on the Apple App Store or get it on Google Play.