The pandemic has turned our day-to-day routines upside down, making it all too easy to slip into bad habits without realizing it, including those that can harm the heart. Some examples: sitting for extended periods, forgoing balanced meals while filling up on high-calorie comfort foods, and enduring unrelenting stress. February, which is heart health month, is an ideal time to take stock and get back on track to habits that protect your heart. Try these tips:
Keep moving! Even if you exercise for an hour a day, the fact is that prolonged sitting itself has been associated with worse health outcomes, including heart disease. Try to move every hour if possible. Stand up and sway from one foot to the other while folding laundry, walk while on the phone, dance during TV commercials, etc.
Focus on fiber. If your daily wardrobe has featured mostly sweatpants and now your expanded waistline keeps you from buttoning your jeans, the culprit may be months of consuming high-calorie, high-fat foods, like butter, cheese and fatty meats. On the other hand, eating more soluble fiber foods like apples, peas, beans, bran, oatmeal, barley, nuts and seeds could help you accumulate less belly fat.
Cut back on salt. Just one heavy, high-sodium meal can elevate blood pressure. Aim to pile your plate with salad and vegetables first to help limit your salt intake. Use herbs and spices to flavor your food.
Curb “over-snacking.” Try these tips: If you’re craving a snack, divert your attention–get up and drink some water. Limit your snack choices to fresh fruit or veggies, air-popped popcorn, or no-added-sugar fruit pops. Or, dole out a single (small!) serving of chips and put the rest away. Better yet, limit bringing snacks into the house in the first place!
Keep stress in check. Stress constricts blood vessels, which can raise blood pressure and releases the cortisol hormone, which encourages the storage of body fat and is linked to hardening of the arteries, heart attack and stroke. While you may not be able to control a traffic jam or other stressful situation, you can quiet your body’s response. Listen to relaxing music, take slow deep breaths, or look up at the clouds and let worries float away.
Don’t skimp on sleep. Turn off that alluring TV series, shut down your devices and aim to get at least 6 to 9 hours of sleep nightly. Adults who sleep less than 6 hours a night have a 48% greater chance of developing heart disease and a 15% greater chance of stroke.
Do your daily floss! Flossing helps remove bacteria from the gums, which can travel to the bloodstream, inflame blood vessels, and cause other heart problems. See your dentist every 6 months for checkups.