by Katie Lehn, RD
Celebrate American Heart Month by honoring your cardiovascular system. Whether you have heart disease personally, in your family history or not at all, these heart healthy habits will benefit you! Consider focusing on one of these five concepts throughout the month of February.
1) Get Active Daily
- Find an activity you enjoy that gets your heart pumping. Get creative with your activity. Look for opportunities to get active in your community such as hiking clubs, fencing and dance classes. The Tucson community offers weekly events such as Meet Me at Maynard’s and the Tuesday Night Bike Ride. Know about more fun activities in Tucson? Please share them in the comments below!
- Block time for exercise in your daily schedule and don’t back out. Create accountability by purchasing a membership, registering for classes ahead of time, making plans with a friend or entering a contest.
2) Kick Bad Habits
- Smoking significantly increases risk for cardiovascular disease. If you smoke, take steps toward quitting. Be honest with yourself and seek support in this process if necessary.
- Cut out hydrogenated fats. To do this: Read food ingredient lists and avoid any packaged food with hydrogenated oil. Also avoid fried foods when eating out.
3) Prioritize Stress Management
- Stress contributes to inflammation and elevates blood sugar, which aggravates stress on our hearts and contributes to the development of heart disease. Make a conscious effort to adopt relaxation techniques into your daily routine. This could include breathing exercises, yoga, creative outlets (drawing, painting, playing music), journaling, meditation and simply spending time alone without distractions.
- Adequate sleep also plays an important role in our ability to manage daily life stressors. Aim to sleep enough each night so you wake up energized, feeling well rested.
4) Emphasize Foods High in Heart Healthy Nutrients
- Eat colorful vegetables with every meal and snack.
- Choose unprocessed carb dense foods such as brown rice, corn, peas, fruit, sweet potatoes, oatmeal and beans instead of pasta, bread, crackers and other flour based foods.
- Focus on healthy sources of fat such as fish, olive oil, avocado, nuts and seeds.
- Incorporate beans and legumes daily.
- Use spices and herbs liberally.
- Limit added sugar.
5) Don’t Forget Chocolate!
- Have your cocoa and eat it to! Cocoa is rich in antioxidants and anti-inflammatories, that reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. In honor of Valentine’s Day and to help jump-start your journey to a nourished heart, try out these no-added-sugar chocolaty treats: