When you think about creating heart-healthy habits, what comes to mind? We already know that diet and exercise plays a big part in preventing cardiovascular disease. But, lifestyle factors like stress and sleep can also take their toll on your ticker.
Sure, adopting a healthier diet and becoming more physically active can reduce risks, but there are other heart helpers that may not be as obvious. In honor of American Heart Month, here are five very simple, yet powerful practices that every adult should prioritize:
Honor Your Hobbies
Have a meditative habit? If not, get one. Any calming practice that allows you to slow down and focus your mind can lower blood pressure and stress hormones, while slowing your heart rate. If you’ve been dreaming of taking up guitar, knitting, or drawing, there’s never a better time than the present.
Prioritize Your Relationships
Staying in touch with friends and maintaining an active social life can reduce your risk for heart disease. But Facebook doesn’t count — take the time to socialize in person. Set a date every month, or more frequently if you can, to get together with friends. Having a get-together on the calendar gives you something special to look forward, which is a definite mood booster.
Don’t Go It Alone
Psychosocial risk factors, like lack of social support, can contribute to your heart disease risk. Why not add a social element to your workout plan? Apps and websites like Meetup.com make it easy for you to connect with new friends for yoga, hiking trips, and more. The right group can help ward off negativity and anxiety, while keeping you motivated and accountable to your fitness routine.
Don’t Skimp on Sleep
It’s true: better sleep can lead to a healthier heart. One study, led by Dr. Lu Qi of the Obesity Research Center at Tulane University in New Orleans, revealed that good sleep patterns can help reduce your risk of heart disease or stroke, even if you're at high genetic risk.
In fact, the study, published in the Dec. 17, 2019 edition of the European Heart Journal, found that having a "healthy sleep score" of 5 (on a scale of 0 to 5) appeared to reduce a person's odds for heart disease and stroke by about one third.
Give Yourself a Real Time-Out
At least once a week, give yourself some quality chill-out time. A spa staycation — complete with a detoxifying mask, bubble bath, and relaxing music — is one way to hit pause and feel more peace. Whatever your plan, keep it soothing, yet simple. The goal of a meaningful time-out is to erase the stress, not add to it.
Do Your Heart a Favor
Which of these heart helpers are you already honoring? Which ones do you need to do more of? Make time for your hobbies, schedule a Sunday brunch with friends, or get to bed a bit earlier. You’ll feel a difference. And, your heart will feel the love.
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