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7 ways to take care of your heart for American Heart Month

February is all about hearts, and for a good reason: It’s American Heart Month. Ever since President Lyndon B. Johnson declared it in 1964, the month of February has been dedicated to heart health awareness.

Heart disease can happen at any age and is the leading cause of death for both men and women in the United States. In fact, one in four people die from heart disease each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). Common risk factors include smoking, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, physical inactivity, obesity and diabetes.

While this may all sound dire, we’ve outlined seven simple ways to start taking better care of your heart: 

  1. Know your numbers. Before you start making any lifestyle changes, talk to your doctor. Get the numbers of your resting heart rate, blood pressure and cholesterol, so you can begin to monitor them going forward. Many devices today will track your heart rate and blood pressure—even some smartphones have this capability. Use a smartwatch to keep tabs on your daily numbers so you can make adjustments as needed.

  2. Stop smoking. If you’re a smoker, it’s time to nip it in the bud. If you’re not a smoker, don’t start. Not only does smoking contribute to lung cancer, but it can create—and increase—other risk factors, such as fatty substances in the arteries that can lead to plaque buildup. Not to mention, second-hand smoke can increase these factors for others.

  3. Get active. Did you know that just 20 minutes of activity a day, four to five days a week, can help improve heart health? That’s as simple as walking around the block or a quick bike ride. If you have the option to walk or take a quick Uber, walk. If you can park further away from the grocery store, do it. Being more active can also decrease stress and improve your mood.

  4. Eat heart-healthy food. Limit processed foods and focus on eating whole foods, like fish, nuts and leafy vegetables. And for those missing dessert, a little dark chocolate can satisfy that sweet tooth (in moderation). Don’t forget to drink plenty of water!

  5. Limit alcohol intake. Studies have shown an increase in heart rate—and blood pressure—when overindulging in alcoholic beverages. Limit the amount of alcohol you drink, and be sure to hydrate before, during and after each adult beverage.

  6. Reduce stress. Take steps to reduce stress, like taking part in a yoga class (or video), a long walk or meditation. Lowering stress lowers blood pressure, which helps your heart pump more efficiently.

  7. Get more sleep. Sleeping helps restore the body, decreases stress and increases overall happiness. Implement a bedtime routine that will allow you time to decompress, clock at least seven hours of sleep per night and wake up around the same time each morning.

While this list isn’t exhaustive, the most important takeaways are talking to your doctor, eating well, staying active and getting enough sleep. It’s never too late to start creating heart-healthy habits.