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Ten ways to Protect Your Heart with Self-Care

Updated: Mar 23

It’s February, which means it’s heart health month. Using American Heart Association’s Life’s Essential 8, here are 10 ways to start and maintain healthy heart habits today.

Happy Heart, Happy Life

Registered nurses have options to specialize in arenas of healthcare. From the emergency room to the board room, nurses play a pivotal role in advancing healthcare and protecting the health of the public. I chose to specialize in cardiovascular care. I absolutely love talking about the heart and how strong yet delicate of a muscle it is. This February I plan to do my part to increase awareness on how to maintain a healthy heart.

Ten ways you can prioritize your heart health this month

The heart has many responsibilities: it pumps blood, hormones and other vital substances throughout the body, and it works to maintain blood pressure. The heart is a strong organ, but needs help maintaining its strength. Previously, American Heart Association (AHA) introduced Life’s Simple 7, a sort of rubric or set of guidelines to achieve optimal heart health. The AHA has now introduced Life’s Essential 8, defining these key measures for improving and maintaining cardiovascular health, which can aid in reducing risk for heart disease and stroke. I’m going to add two more ways to prioritize your heart health to make it an easy ten ways to take care of your heart.

1. Smoking cessation: if you’re a smoker, there is no time like the present to start working on a plan to quit. You likely already know that smoking can lead to heart disease, stroke, lung cancer, type II diabetes, cataracts, and poor bone health and tooth decay. But smoking has other negative effects for both men and women. According to the CDC, cigarette smoking can reduce fertility in men and increase risk for birth defects and miscarriage. Among women, cigarette smoking can make it more difficult to become pregnant and can increase risk for preterm- or stillbirth.

2. Manage your weight. Managing weight can be challenging, especially as we age and have other priorities (work, raising families, being a caretaker for loved ones). Some key tips from AHA include: controlling food portions and getting physically active. Try to avoid eating when you’re bored or just craving something because of its easy access. Instead, try drinking water every time you think you’re hungry. If the hunger doesn’t go away, then grab a healthy snack. If this isn’t an option, try to minimize your intake of the unhealthy foods around you. As an example, maybe you have three cookies instead of five.

3. Physical Activity: According to AHA, adults should get 2 ½ hours of moderate or 75 minutes of vigorous physical activity per week. Kids should have 60 minutes every day. If you’re in the office 5 days a week, try getting out for a walk on your lunch break and go to the gym. You can also get out with your family after work and make it a group activity. Also, try to get some resistance or weight training in a couple times a week. And if you’re new to working out, set goals to work up to 30 minutes a day of exercise. It’s ok to start at 10 or 20 minutes and build up each week.

4. Healthy Diet: Learn how to eat better. Consider creating a healthy eating pattern which adds fruits, vegetables and water to your daily routine. Start with the healthy foods you enjoy eating, and then expand your palate to other healthy foods. You can also try examining where you’re eating. For example, if you’re eating fast food three times a week, try getting that number down to one or two.

5. Maintaining Low Cholesterol. You’ve probably heard of “good cholesterol” or HDL and “bad cholesterol” or LDL. The good cholesterol helps the bad cholesterol from sticking to your artery walls, which can increase risk of heart attack because of the narrow space for blood flow. The AHA recommends replacing saturated fats with unsaturated fats. Here’s a list of healthy fat foods to try.

6. Maintaining normal blood pressure. There are several stages of high blood pressure. Don’t be alarmed just yet. Blood pressure can be checked regularly at a local drugstore like CVS. Consider having your blood pressure checked if high blood pressure runs in your family. You can manage your blood pressure with a healthy diet including lean animal proteins like fish, vegetables, fruits, nuts and legumes.

7. Maintaining normal blood glucose. Glucose or sugar is found in most foods and drinks. For someone who is diabetic, either their pancreas loses its ability to produce insulin or the body can’t use the insulin it produces, also called insulin resistance. Diabetes can run in families, so it’s important to consult with your provider on any necessary blood glucose monitoring you may need. A diet high in a combination of fruits, vegetables, beans, grains and proteins, and low in sugary goods can help fight off diabetes. Getting enough exercise in throughout the week can also help.

8. Maintaining a healthy sleep pattern of 7-9 hours each night. This is the newest addition to AHA’s recommendations on living longer, healthier lives. Lack of adequate sleep can lead to depression, high blood pressure, obesity, and heart disease. To get to sleep faster, consider avoiding lying in bed on your phone. Also, put yourself on a schedule during the day to get tasks done by a certain time. Whatever isn’t completed by the time you are to clock out, save it for another day to prioritize your sleep. Another helpful tip: turn your phone notifications off and, if possible, turn on “Do Not Disturb” for uninterrupted sleep.

The remaining two ways listed here are not associated with AHA’s recommendations, but worth noting.

9. Manage stress. Stress comes in many different forms, and can lead to cardiovascular disease, especially for black women. Find outlets to mentally release the stress. Check in on your strong friends. Let them know how you both can help each other manage stress better together.

10. Medication Management. Medications are prescribed every day to manage some of the conditions explained in this article, but there are some grave racial differences when it comes to compliance. One recent study found that Blacks are 27-43% more likely to be nonadherent to diabetes, hypertension, and high cholesterol medications compared to Whites. Medication isn’t for everyone, and in some cases proper diet and exercise may alleviate a need for medication. But it is critical to consult with a provider before deciding to stop taking your medication. They may be able to find an alternative.

There’s no Better Time to Start Taking Care of Yourself

It may not be everyone’s goal to live to be 100, but you should strive to live long enough achieve goals and aspirations. Write those goals down and use them as motivation to eat better, workout more, sleep more, and prioritize your mental health. You get one body; take care of it.

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American Heart Association. (2023). Life’s essential 8. American Heart Association.

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Dong, X., Tsang, C. C. S., Wan, J. Y., Shih, Y. C. T., Chisholm-Burns, M. A., Dagogo-Jack, S., ... & Wang, J. (2021). Exploring racial and ethnic disparities in medication adherence among Medicare comprehensive medication review recipients. Exploratory research in clinical and social pharmacy, 3, 100041.

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Pietrangelo, A. (2019, December12). What’s the difference between saturated and unsaturated fat? Healthline.

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