February is heart month and with heart disease being the leading cause of death worldwide, it makes sense that we would dedicate a whole month to bringing awareness around the heart. What can you do for your beautiful, hard-working heart? It’s not easy pumping all that blood around day-in and day-out! Here are just a few things you can do that your heart will thank you for.
Say thank you!
You may be thinking this sounds a little hokey but before you stop reading, hear me out! If you’re a well practiced yogi or someone who’s familiar with chakras or mind-body medicine, then you probably don’t think this sounds strange at all. Gratitude is good for the heart. For those of you who may be a little more skeptical, I have evidence.
Not only has having an attitude of gratitude shown to be an amazing motivator for making positive lifestyle changes but being grateful has actually shown to lower heart rate, result in fewer deaths from heart failure, lower inflammation, and help regulate emotions (1,2). An interesting 2016 study found that a group of patients with heart failure who participated in gratitude journaling had better scores on markers of inflammation than the group who didn’t participate (2).
All that just for saying thank you! So thank your heart for working so hard, thank the people in your life, thank God or whoever who believe in, just be grateful and at the end of the day, your heart will thank YOU for it.
Most people already know that exercise is good for the heart so I won’t spend too much time on this one. One thing I will say though is find a way to get moving that is fun. If you hate running, don’t plan to run every day because you heard that it’s good for you. Find an activity you love and can get excited about and work that into your action plan to get moving.
Make healthy food choices
This is a hard one. There is always so much propaganda around diets, each one making amazing claims until the next one comes along. I think this is an area where it helps to have someone, like a nutritionist or naturopathic doctor, who has a solid understanding of nutrition to work with you to figure out the best food choices for you and your body. I will, however, dare to make a generalization for three heart healthy food choices:
1) Eat lots of vegetables
The more variety and colour you can get into your diet the better. Garlic and onions have both been shown to be helpful in heart health so working those in where you can is a great idea.
2) Eat healthy fats
Mono- and polyunsaturated fats like omega-3 fatty acids are helpful in preventing inflammation which tends to be the culprit in heart disease. Olive oil is a great source of omega-3’s and has also been investigated for its use in heart health. Careful with exposing olive oil to high heat though such as frying as this changes its properties.
3) Avoid processed foods.
These tend to contain additives and high amounts of sugar that can lead to inflammation so are best avoided as much as possible.
Did you know that social isolation or loneliness has the same risk as smoking for heart disease (3)? Connection is good for the heart! Find events in your community that you are interested in. Call that friend or family member you’ve been meaning to catch up with. Head to a public library or cafe to catch up on work or reading. Don’t like connecting with humans? Get a pet. Go for a forest walk. Do whatever you have to do to connect with the people and world around you.
(1) Kyeong, Sunghyon, et al. “Effects of Gratitude Meditation on Neural Network Functional Connectivity and Brain-Heart Coupling.” Scientific Reports, vol. 7, no. 1, Nov. 2017, doi:10.1038/s41598-017-05520-9.
(2) Redwine, Laura S., et al. “Pilot Randomized Study of a Gratitude Journaling Intervention on Heart Rate Variability and Inflammatory Biomarkers in Patients With Stage B Heart Failure.” Psychosomatic Medicine, vol. 78, no. 6, 2016, pp. 667–676., doi:10.1097/psy.0000000000000316.
(3) Publishing, Harvard Health. “Loneliness Has Same Risk as Smoking for Heart Disease.”Harvard Health, www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/loneliness-has-same-risk-as-smoking-for-heart-disease.