February is American Heart Month which gives us a chance to think about ways we can improve our cardiovascular health. Check out these lifestyle hacks to help you get the happiest, healthiest heart for American Heart Month and all year-round.
Heart Health is Smart Health
February isn’t just about flowers, chocolates and Instagram pictures of you and yours... it’s also about that vital organ that makes it all possible -- your heart. Valentine’s Day is one day in February, but American Heart Month gives us the opportunity to think about ways we can improve our cardiovascular health all month-long. A thriving cardiovascular system is linked to improved athletic performance, mental acuity and longevity-- all things we should be striving for as part of our overall health and wellness. Cardiovascular disease (CVD), including coronary heart disease (CHD), stroke and peripheral vascular disease, is the leading cause of death in the United States and most developed Western countries which means we have all the incentive to take control of our heart health as soon as we can.
Let’s get to the heart of the matter then, shall we? There are plenty of lifestyle hacks and strategies you can implement into your daily routine to make sure you are actively working to improve your cardiovascular health. This article is going to focus on four simple behavior modifications that can have a measurable impact on your heart health with minimal effort, leaving you more time to snuggle up with your loved one or get some more swipes in on Tinder.
1. Move throughout the day.
Cardio exercises aren’t always easy to squeeze into a busy routine, but getting in non-exercise physical movement throughout the day can be done (and there are massive health payoffs associated with it). One study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine found that a generally active daily life was, regardless of exercising regularly or not, associated with cardiovascular health and longevity in older adults. We know that a sedentary lifestyle is part of what contributes to less than optimal health but what might surprise you is that in the same study, a higher level of NEPA (non-exercise physical activity) was associated with more preferable waist circumference, high-density lipoprotein cholesterol and triglycerides in both sexes and with lower insulin, glucose and fibrinogen levels in men. Metabolic syndrome was significantly lower in those with higher NEPA levels in non-exercising and regularly exercising individuals.
Here are some tips for incorporating movement into your everyday life:
Invest in tracking wearables to help keep you accountable and motivated to get up and move throughout the day. FitBit and other brands will allow you to set reminders to meet your minimum movement requirements throughout the day.
Walk on your break. You can quite literally step away from your routine and improve cardiovascular health while you take a break. Put on a shorter podcast or a walking meditation recording to make this a part of your day you’ll look forward to rather than dread.
Stand at your desk or in front of the TV. Sometimes being in one place is just part of the deal when at work or in front of our devices at home. Try standing at your desk or walking in place when watching your favorite show to get some movement out of an otherwise sedentary activity.
2. Have another cup of coffee.
Coffee is part of most of our daily routines already and the good news is in addition to that boost of energy and enhanced focus you get from your morning cup, you are also improving your heart health. The Journal of the American College of Cardiology released findings on improved cardiovascular health achieved by diet modifications and coffee was one of the beverages linked to lower risk of CVD, with the greatest risk reduction occurring at around 3 to 5 cups per day. Are you more of a tea-drinker? No problem, tea consumption was also found to reduce the risk of CVD in this study. Next time you make your way over to R3’s juice bar, check out the premium black coffee and butter coffees to toast to your heart health and enjoy the added energy boost as well!
3. Meditate to help reduce stress.
Cardiovascular disease is not just the result of poor diet or insufficient movement -- stress is also one of the leading causes of CVD. Luckily, stress is getting easier to minimize as more and more mindfulness techniques emerge. Taking just a few minutes out of your day can have a meaningful impact on lowering your stress levels and by associating lowering your risk of heart disease.
Tips for incorporating mindfulness practices into your daily routine:
Find a meditation app that works for you. Headspace is a well-known meditation app that offers meditations ranging from 1-20 minutes to fit your schedule for an affordable monthly membership rate. There are also free meditation apps that can also accommodate a busy schedule.
Try meditating first thing in the morning. Starting the day with a calming morning routine of a 10-minute meditation can set the tone for the rest of the time you are awake.
4. Sweat it out.
A sauna session can do wonders for recovery and stress-reduction but it also has been shown to have positive benefits for heart health. The European Journal of Preventive Cardiology published a study that found just a 30 minute sauna session several times per week could have impacts on cardiovascular health and even mimic the benefits of exercise.
Tips for incorporating sauna sessions into your routine:
Make the sauna part of your active recovery day. On your next rest day, try sitting in the sauna for 30 minutes and get the benefits of a cardio workout while you relax.
Hop in the sauna post-workout. This will give you a chance to make this part of your regular routine.