February is the month we celebrate St. Valentine’s Day, sometimes eat too much chocolate and hopefully pay special attention to the ones we love. But how much love have you given yourself lately? If home is where the heart is, how well are you keeping house?
Heart disease is the #1 cause of death in men and women over 35. 64% of women and between 70-89% of men who die suddenly of a cardiac event had NO previous symptoms of heart disease! 49% of Americans have at least 1 of the 3 key heart disease risk factors (high blood pressure, high LDL cholesterol and smoking). Other medical conditions and lifestyle choices that contribute to heart disease include diabetes, overweight – obesity, poor diet, physical inactivity and excessive alcohol. But, don’t lose heart…
If you’ve ever fallen in love and been kicked to the curb, you know your heart is resilient. This is not just a metaphor. Our heart muscle is incredibly resilient and adapts to positive change almost immediately. Here are some tools to improve heart health and increase your capacity to love – which is, after all, why we’re here.
FEED YOUR HEART: There are many foods that have great heart health benefits including; berries, walnuts and almonds (in moderation), salmon or fish high in omega 3 fatty acids like mackerel and trout, beans, ground flaxseeds, oatmeal, fruits and veggies that are red, yellow and orange, dark chocolate (70% cocoa or higher), tofu, spinach, broccoli, asparagus, olive oil and avocado. On-the-plate translation; oatmeal with mixed berries, nuts and ground flaxseed (breakfast), bean chili with a side salad of fresh spinach, ½ an avocado and tomato with olive oil vinaigrette (lunch), baked salmon (trout or tofu) topped with red and yellow peppers and a side of steamed asparagus and broccoli (dinner). Snack on a few squares of dark chocolate or a ¼ cup of nuts and you’ve taken amazing care of your heart all day.
FORGIVE: Studies have found that the act of forgiveness has measurable, positive health benefits including lowering risk of heart attack, improved cholesterol levels and blood pressure, better sleep, reduced pain, depression, anxiety and stress. Further, the older we get, the stronger the forgiveness – health connection. Some of you already know this but it bears repeating, forgiveness is not for the one who caused you harm. It’s for you – to be able to move forward and acknowledge, “Your actions no longer hold any power over me. I am free of you.” Who do you need to release in order to free yourself? It’s not about forgetting transgressions, nor is forgiveness an event. It’s a process that takes time. Start with the intention to want to let go, to move (yourself) and your heart forward.
FIND THE RIGHT ACTIVITY: In countries with the lowest rates of heart disease and the highest longevity rates, people don’t “workout.” Instead, functional exercise and movement are integrated into everyday life. People garden, ride their bikes to work, walk to the store. Where can you bake in some functional exercise into your daily routine? Identify 1 area of your day where you could put this into practice.
FEEL THE GRATITUDE: A U.C. San Diego study looked at how gratitude affects people who have had some kind of heart health “event.” Over 8 weeks of grateful contemplation and gratitude journaling, participants showed physical improvements to their heart muscle based on EKGs taken at the beginning and end of the 8 week period. The control group, who didn’t do any journaling or grateful contemplation, showed no improvements to the heart muscle. The group with the 8 week gratitude practice showed sustained heart muscle improvement lasting an average of 5 months.
FIGURE OUT YOUR FUN: A surprising number of people don’t know what they like to do. What was once fun years ago may not be anymore (insert tequila body shots here). We think we need to “relax” and de-compress from work (aka passive vegetation in front of the T.V.) when we really need to get up and put intentional, straight up active FUN back into our lives. What makes you giggle and feel that sense of light-heartedness and delight? That feeling is good for you, and it’s good for your heart.
Home really is where the heart is. I hope you’ll take care of yours and use these tools to build a happy, healthy heart, one that affords you the maximum opportunity to love the ones you love.