American Heart Month is drawing to a close, but we think that this special season of awareness should be observed all year long. Cardiovascular disease – which includes heart disease, stroke, and high blood pressure – is the top killer of women in the United States. Therefore, learning about ways to keep our hearts healthy is crucial.

Here are a few tips to keep your heart in its very best shape:

Eat (Heart) Healthy Foods
Eating right is beneficial for millions of reasons, so this charge comes as no surprise. Consuming specific heart-healthy foods can be a game-changer in preventing cardiovascular disease. WebMD, the reputable medical website, has created a great list of the top 25 foods that help your heart stay strong and healthy. These include: salmon, oatmeal, almonds, blueberries, spinach, and our favorites red wine and dark chocolate (in moderation, please!).

Exercise Consistently
Physical activity is important for the health of your heart for so many reasons. For starters, exercising helps maintain a healthy weight, which is crucial for preventing cardiovascular disease. It also gets your blood pumping, helping keep your cholesterol and blood pressure levels in check. Just 20 minutes per day of heart-pumping exercise is sufficient, so head out for a run or a bike ride, take a fun class at a local gym or do something a little slower-paced, like walking around your neighborhood with a furry friend. The intensity of your workout is less important than the frequency of doing it, so make sure that your heart is working and your blood is flowing – just doing daily things like walking up and down the stairs at work won’t sufficiently protect your heart from cardiovascular disease.

Stand Up!
Though working out is crucial for keeping your heart in tip-top shape, exercise alone cannot prevent the build up of fatty deposits around your heart. Pericardial fat can block arteries and decrease the heart’s efficiency, making it difficult for blood to circulate throughout your body. The longer one sits, the more time this specific type of fat has to build up and cause problems. Exercise alone cannot combat pericardial fat, though it has been known to reduce it slightly. So start standing up at your desk when possible, or set your alarm to remind you to walk a couple of laps every hour so you can stretch your legs and get your circulation going. If your job requires you to drive a lot, schedule “walking breaks” where you can get out of your car and get your blood flowing.

Get Quality Sleep
Research consistently shows that getting less than six hours of sleep per night can have a negative effect on your cardiovascular health. Additionally, the quality of your slumber is important, as good-quality sleep decreases the amount of work your heart has to do, lowering your blood pressure and stress level. According to WebMD and sleep expert Phyllis Zee, MD, PhD, people who don’t get enough sleep have heart rates that don’t vary; instead of fluctuating (getting higher during exercise and movement, and lower when you’re sitting or resting), the heart rate remains consistently high, which ends up mimicking what your heart does when you’re stressed out. Eating well, exercising, and staying active during the day (standing and walking when possible) all contribute to getting a great night’s rest, so make sure to prioritize time to sleep, and to sleep well.

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