The heart is arguably the most important part of the human body – our hardest working muscle. Sadly (and scarily), cardiovascular diseases claim more lives than all forms of cancer combined, so naturally we should be pretty concerned with keeping it healthy and happy, right? Right!
The good news is that it’s never too late to start treating your heart as it should be treated, and Farm Star Living is here to help. In honor of National Heart Month, here are five ways to keep your heart pumping strong and feeling like new for years to come. We want you farm-loving foodies kickin’ it heart-healthy style in 2016.
Get back to basics with your food.
A healthy diet is one of the top defenses against heart disease. Changing the way you eat may seem like a daunting task, but there are many ways to give your eating habits a 180-degree spin. Avoiding butter, cheese, and other high-cholesterol ingredients is the first step. We know they’re tasty, but they’re also known for clogging arteries, and that is the polar opposite of what we’re trying to accomplish! Also, keep your meat choices lean and increase your intake of fruits and veggies. Eat clean, eliminate bad fats, and prepare all meals with your heart in mind. Just because it’s healthy doesn’t mean it won’t be delicious! We’re going to let you in on a little secret, too: it has been said that dark chocolate, when eaten in moderation, may lower the risk of heart disease. Can you say yay and yum? We can!
Decrease your sodium intake.
Americans, generally speaking, consume way more sodium than we need. This can lead to a spike in blood pressure, which ultimately puts a strain on your heart. Let us back up a bit, though. First it’s important to understand the difference between the usage of the terms sodium and salt. "Sodium" is generally used when talking about processed and preserved foods. “Salt” is more often used when talking about the salt in your saltshaker or “table salt.” Yes, in order to keep a healthy heart, you should reduce your intake of both, but sodium is the bigger beast to battle.
Because sodium is usually added to foods before you buy them, it’s hard to limit how much you’re eating. Best practice? Check labels and always be conscious of sodium amounts – try to stay under 1,500 milligrams a day. According to the New England Journal of Medicine, if the entire U.S. population reduced their sodium/salt intake to half a teaspoon a day, we could drastically reduce the number of heart disease cases. We know this will be a tough habit to kick, but we have faith in you. If you can do this, you can do just about anything!
Stay active.We know, we know; exercising is hard and exhausting. Hear us out, though. We’re not asking you to hulk out and do high-intensity exercises daily (although we won’t stop you if you want to do that). Walking for 20 to 30 minutes each day should do the trick – really anything that gets your heart rate up and keeps it up for the length of your activity. This includes taking breaks at work to get up and move, especially if you have the typical “I-sit-at-a-desk-all-day” job. Whatever it takes, get moving and make it fun! Not only will you find yourself with more energy, but you’ll feel better, too.
Easier said than done, right? We get it – stress happens and it’s often hard to avoid. It’s your body’s response to change and pressure, and it’s a completely natural feeling. It pretty much goes without saying that stress puts a strain on the heart, but the key is how you respond to it. Pick up some habits that help you deal with your stresses in a healthy way (adult coloring books are all the rage right now). Exercising will also significantly help with this, because when we exercise – whether we’re pumping iron in the gym, or simply walking through the neighborhood – our bodies release endorphins. Endorphins are a chemical known to trigger happy feelings and reduce stress, so get those suckers flowing!
For those times when you find yourself completely overwhelmed by or consumed with something, step away from what you’re doing. There is no task that you can’t take a five-minute break from. Take a walk, clear your head, and have a laugh. Many people say laughter is the best medicine, and in this case, that couldn’t be truer.
Get the right amount of sleep.
Now we’re talking. A way to reduce our risk of heart disease, and we get to sleep? Sign us up! Sleep is actually essential to your overall health, but it’s great for your heart, too. Not getting enough ZZZs can increase your blood pressure and your risk. Conversely, getting too much sleep can also negatively impact your heart. So what is the right amount? It varies per person, but a good rule of thumb is between six and eight hours each night. (Also, just an FYI, not getting the right amount of sleep can affect your metabolism and weight-loss efforts, too.) So get your snooze on, and you’re sure to wake up feeling refreshed!
All of this isn’t that difficult now, is it? Of course not! So, let’s all get moving, find ways to de-stress, and cut down on bad fats and salts. Our heart does so much for us – it gets us through each and every day – and it’s time we start returning the favor.