February is Heart Health Month so I wanted to share a few thoughts on achieving optimal heart health. Having a healthy heart encompasses physical, emotional and mental wellbeing. Physically, we know that staying active and exercising regularly is a key part of heart health. If you currently do not exercise regularly, you can simply start by walking for 10-15 minutes every day. Believe it or not, doing this or even standing while you are working at your desk can help you with your cardiovascular fitness. After you get started, you can begin to do more slowly but steadily. For those of you who are already active, making sure to do some kind of interval training is important for heart health as this helps build the heart’s capacity to respond to physiological stress. Another part of heart health is eating the right food. For many years, we believed that fat was the enemy and we avoided it like plague. We now know that we need healthy fats for a healthy heart. In fact, the lack of good fats is a major contributor to heart disease. What are good fats and where do we find them? The best fats for our heart come from both plant and marine sources. Plant sources include raw, unprocessed tree nuts including walnuts, almonds, cashews, pecans and pistachios. The fat in these nuts increase our good protective cholesterol and decrease our bad dangerous cholesterol. Marine sources include wild seafood from cold-water fish like salmon or mackerel. Wild seafood is the key as farmed seafood is often fed corn and colored orange having little health benefit as compared to wild seafood that is rich in omega 3 fish oil as a result of their diet in the wild. In addition to diet and exercise, sleep can also affect our risk for heart disease. Having less than 5 hours of sleep a night has been associated with an increased risk for heart disease so make sure to get enough sleep, usually at least 7 hours.
But having a healthy heart is more than just physical; it is also mental and emotional. In fact, the INTERHEART study found that psychosocial stress was responsible for up to 32% of the risk for heart attack making it as important as diabetes, smoking, high blood pressure and high cholesterol. Social or economic stress, marital stress and financial hardship as well as anxiety, anger and hostility have all been associated with an increased risk for heart disease. Heart attack survivors are much more likely to prevent a second heart attack or stroke by treating any mental health conditions such as depression or anxiety. Research has shown that cardiac rehabilitation that includes treating depression and stress reduces the risk for death as much as 60 percent. So clearly heart health is more than just what we eat or what we do, it also is about how we feel. So enjoy February and heart health month by nurturing your heart through your mind, body and spirit!
Stay well and be happy,