February is Heart Health Month--and with the start of the New Year already a month behind us, it’s the perfect time to reinforce the healthy behaviors you’ve set out to accomplish this year! Below, I share 5 simple tips and strategies that will positively impact your overall health and wellness while keeping your H.E.A.R.T in mind!
H - Happiness
It has been established in research that negative emotions can negatively harm the body, eventually leading to chronic disease. But that’s only part of the equation: new research is emerging that shows that positive emotions can have a protective effect on health! In a 2007 Harvard study, researchers found that emotional vitality--“a sense of enthusiasm, of hopefulness, of engagement in life, and the ability to face life’s stresses with emotional balance”--was a factor in reducing the risk of coronary heart disease.
E - Eat Your Fruits and Veggies
Fruits and vegetables are nutrition powerhouses! Fruits are filled with satiating fiber and health-boosting nutrients while vegetables are lower in calories and high in nutrients, vitamins, and minerals. Plenty of research has tied fruit and vegetable intake with better health outcomes: according to the Nurses’ Health Study, individuals who ate eight or more servings a day versus less than 1.5 servings a day were 30% less likely to have a heart attack or stroke.
A - Activity
Your heart is a muscle, and like all muscles, it becomes stronger when you work out. If exercise is new to you, make small and simple goals and use a calendar to track your goals. Start off slow- maybe 10 minutes of activity/day and build up to 30 minutes. If activity has been a part of your lifestyle, carry on; but don't get stuck in a rut! Remember there are 3 important pieces of the puzzle: cardio, resistance and stretching. Try to include equal parts of cardiovascular exercise (like running or biking), strength or resistance training (like weight lifting), and stretching or relaxation (like yoga) in your workout routine.
R - Reduce stress
Left unchecked, stress can lead to unhealthy behaviors that affect your heart health. Balance your stress with the three stress management techniques contemplation, meditation, and respiration. A few simple ways to decrease stress include listening to music, writing down a few things you are happy and grateful for, looking at old pictures that capture memories that you loved creating, laughing out loud, and send someone a nice text to see how their day is going! Everyone needs a little attention!
T - Touch
Did you know that just one twenty second hug is enough to stimulate the release of oxytocin, the “bonding” or “happy” hormone? The release of oxytocin can help reduce blood pressure, which in turn reduces the risk of heart disease as well as levels of stress and anxiety. It also creates a sense of well-being and happiness, so you can reap the benefits right away. Next time you see your partner, children, parents, siblings, a friend--anyone!--give them a long hug--you’ll both feel better for it!
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