Valentine’s Day may be just around the corner, but it’s not the only reason to think about your heart this time of year. February is American Heart Month—an essential part of the public health calendar since 1964, raising awareness about cardiovascular disease and encouraging everyone to embrace a heart-healthy lifestyle.
While adults 65 and older are more likely than younger people to suffer from cardiovascular disease, many heart conditions are largely preventable. Here are some simple steps you can take this February (and beyond) to improve your heart health:
Manage your stress.
Stress hits everyone from time to time, and we know that not all stressors are dangerous or undesirable. Oftentimes, stress is linked to illnesses, a lack of sleep, or emotional concerns (financial, relational, etc.). When high stress or anxiety is chronic and left unchecked, it can put extra pressure on your cardiovascular system and increase your risk of heart disease. Studies suggest that elevated cortisol levels can increase blood pressure, cholesterol, and triglycerides.
Relaxation is the best medicine for stress, and achieving it is a skill that everyone can sharpen. Simple prayer or meditation practices such as slowing down your breathing and focusing on pleasing thoughts and images, can lower your blood pressure when practiced regularly. Listen to your body and find your own ways to put everyday cares into perspective, whether throughprogressive muscle relaxation, yoga, or simply watching the sun set.
Still not feeling Zen? Other ways to reduce stress include having a good laugh (which increases oxygen, relieves tension and lightens the stress response) and listening to music (which can lower blood pressure, heart rate, and cortisol levels).
Explore delicious, heart-healthy recipes.
You probably don’t need a reminder that a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, and low in fat and sodium, is one of the keys to a healthy heart. But if you’ve been cycling through the same rotation of nutritious meals for as long as you can remember, you may need some inspiration.
Ask friends and family members to share their favorite heart-healthy recipes, and seek out seasonal and organic ingredients to use when cooking them. You can find a wealth of suggestions online, from budget-friendly or low-sodium options to vegetarian fare and Mediterranean-inspired dishes.
Need to satisfy your sweet tooth? Some treats can be heart healthy, too! Dark chocolate, for example, contains several compounds and nutrients that boost your immune and cardiovascular systems.
Commit to exercise… with a friend.
To maintain good heart health, older adults should do at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise every week. That’s about two-and-a-half hours, which is easily spread out over a week. If you’re not hitting that target, why not make February the month you get moving? Procrastination is harder when there’s someone working alongside you, so consider teaming up with a friend to set some dual goals for the year.
If you’re struggling to find an activity buddy, it could be time for a change of scene. One of the advantages of a Prime Independent Living community is that you’re surrounded by peers, have access to a wealth of scheduled activities, and have built-in fitness programs to support your goals.
Join the #OurHearts movement.
How can you raise awareness about American Heart Month and cardiovascular health simply by exercising your thumbs? By posting on social media using the #OurHearts hashtag. None of us are on a solo journey, although sometimes it may feel that way. If you’re looking for ideas, motivation, or a way to encourage others, social media might be a great place to start.
For sample posts and inspirational self-care quotes, check out the social media resources page on the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute’s website.
Connect the wellness dots.
Maintaining a healthy heart is less about ticking boxes marked “exercise” or “diet” and more about achieving growth along the five dimensions of wellness—physical, intellectual, social, emotional, and spiritual. You could exercise several hours per day, but if you’re feeling bored or lonely, any benefits to your heart health could be lost.
It’s important to strike the right balance in your pursuit of a heart-healthy lifestyle. Our Prime communities make it easy to address all dimensions of wellness through a variety of monthly activities, which provide opportunities to learn new skills, explore the arts, and stay active, all while making new friends.
Thinking about making a move? Contact us today to learn more about our active older adult communities.