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The ABC’s of Heart Health

American Heart Month concluded at the end of February, but it doesn’t have to be the end of your healthy habits. It can often feel like we are told to cut back on many of the things that make life enjoyable in the name of health, but there are plenty of ways we can improve our health without compromising on our happiness!

Add flavor to your life by experimenting in the kitchen

Excess sodium intake can lead to high blood pressure, a risk factor for heart disease and stroke. Although added salt at the dinner table is traditionally what we think of when reducing our sodium intake, 70% of the sodium in our diet comes from processed foods like bread, chips, and pizza. Preparing healthy, well-balanced meals can help keep us full and reduce the likelihood of turning to processed foods as often when we are hungry. Cooking food at home also puts us in control of how much sodium goes into our dishes, and is a great way to learn new recipes, experiment with different ingredients, and bond with our family, friends, and partners!

Be active in a way that you’ll enjoy

Treadmills and weight machines may come to mind when we think of fitness, but they aren’t the only way to exercise. Finding an activity you enjoy is the key to starting and sticking to an exercise routine. Try signing up for a sport you have always wanted to learn or join a friend in doing their favorite activity. Taking breaks from sitting down throughout the day is also good for our hearts. Going the long way to fill up your water bottle at work, taking a walk after lunch, or stretching while watching TV at home are simple ways you can add more movement evenly into your day.

Chill out

Stress has long been recognized as a factor that can negatively impact heart health. It is thought that this could be due to a mixture of the effects of the stress itself and the coping mechanisms we use to deal with stress. Detrimental coping behaviors, like smoking, drinking alcohol, or eating unhealthy foods, can negatively impact our heart health. That’s why the little things matter: try to maintain a good sleeping schedule, set realistic expectations at work and school, spend time connecting with loved ones, and set aside time to relax each day to relieve stress.

Emphasizing adding positive behaviors, such as learning new recipes, trying new activities, and relieving stress, can make us feel more excited about making behavior changes. Being mindful of our heart health can have the unintended (but welcome!) consequence of helping us learn new skills, make new friends, and feel better overall.