February is American Heart Month, so it’s a good time to take stock of your heart health.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 30 million Americans have been diagnosed with heart disease in the past few years. And now that we’re in the midst of a pandemic, COVID-19 poses an even greater risk to the heart, given it can damage the respiratory system, which makes it even harder for the heart to work.
Following are four tips for maintaining a healthy heart during the month of February, the pandemic and beyond.
Moving your body daily and training your cardiovascular system is important for the heart. And while running, jumping, high-intensity interval training and other more rigorous activities may be suitable for some, you don’t have to go to extremes to keep your heart pumping.
Big and simple movements that don’t require jumping, such as squats, knee lifts, lunges and push-ups, can get your heart rate up. Raising your arms above your heart can also do the trick. And walking is one of the best ways to get cardiovascular training in at any age, and is an easy and fun activity to do while in quarantine, because it gets you outside in nature. Move in ways that work for you and if you’re consistent with it, your heart will reap the benefits.
Eat heart-healthy foods. Some great examples include leafy greens, whole grains, fish, nuts, berries, dark chocolate and avocado. These foods are filled with fiber, protein, antioxidants, complex carbohydrates and healthy fats.
The key is to minimize the amounts of saturated and trans fats, cholesterol, sodium and sugar, all found in foods that are fried or highly processed.
If you stick with fresh, organic and whole foods, you’ll also eliminate the risks of high blood pressure and diabetes, which can lead to heart disease.
Smart lifestyle choices
Making smart lifestyle choices is another way to maintain a healthy heart. Prioritize your sleep, avoid being sedentary, don’t smoke and minimize your alcohol intake. While these may seem like obvious choices for many people, the stress of the pandemic and being in quarantine can make it hard to kick unhealthy habits for others. And if any members of your household are partaking in unhealthy habits, it may be difficult to say no to them yourself.
It’s important to communicate and motivate one another in your family or friend circle, so that everyone can stay on track and protect their heart health during these challenging times and beyond.
Stress and mental health management
The pandemic has undoubtedly caused people’s stress levels to skyrocket and has had a negative impact on the mental health of many. High stress, burnout, anxiety and depression can also impact your heart.
Meditating for a few minutes each day, practicing yoga, journaling, spending time outside and talking with someone about what you’re going through can go a long way in protecting your heart health. Connecting with others, doing something special with those you love and feeling safe and secure can have a positive impact on your mental health and, in turn, your heart. So, be aware, check in with yourself and others, and take action – all can make a huge difference in your mental health and heart.
Reena Vokoun is founder and CEO of the Los Altos-based Passion Fit, a health, wellness and fitness lifestyle company. Passion Fit livestreams fitness and dance classes via Zoom 9:15-10 a.m. Tuesdays through Fridays.
For more information, visit passionfit.com.