By Audrey Sellers
Hearts are the focus this month — but not just for Valentine’s Day. February is American Heart Month. It’s a time to bring awareness to heart disease, which is the No. 1 killer of Americans. Every year, nearly 650,000 people die from the disease. However, it’s not all doom and gloom. Heart disease is one of the few disorders that people can prevent by making lifestyle changes.
Read on for a rundown of some heart-healthy activities that can help you strengthen your heart, keep your cholesterol and blood pressure levels down, and improve your longevity.
When was the last time you skipped rope? If you loved this activity as a kid, jump back into it today. Not only is jumping rope a full-body workout that can improve your coordination and balance, but it can also improve your cardiovascular health. Even jumping at a relatively moderate rate can burn ten to 16 calories a minute. Experts recommend that beginners jump for one to five minutes every other day.
Go for a Brisk Walk
For average adults, this means walking at a pace of about three to four miles per hour. The goal is to get your heart rate in a moderate-intensity zone. Use the talk test to determine whether you’re in this zone. You should be able to carry on a conversation but not have the breath to belt out a song.
Do Some Household Chores
Whether you give your bathtubs a good scrubbing, mop the floors, or mow the lawn, these activities can get your heart rate up to a level that can benefit your cardiovascular health. And bonus — you’ll come away with a tidier space.
Keeping an active lifestyle doesn’t mean you have to be a marathon runner. Fun activities like hula-hooping, dancing, shooting hoops, or playing fetch with your dog all count as heart-healthy activities.
Work in More “Exercise Snacks”
Many people forgo traditional exercise because they feel like they don’t have time for it. By embracing “fun-sized” exercises, you can reach the recommended 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity activity or 75 minutes per week of vigorous activity. These “snacks” are short bursts of activity, whether you take a five-minute break to jump rope or a 15-minute strength-training class on your favorite workout app.
Five Ways to Keep Your Heart Healthy (No Cardio Required)
Eat more fruits and veggies. Aim to eat at least two to four types of plant-based foods daily. Fruits and vegetables of all kinds contain many healthy nutrients that can help improve blood vessel function. Foods with the most benefits include apples, pears, oranges, leafy greens, cruciferous veggies like broccoli and cauliflower, and green and yellow vegetables like peppers and carrots.
Cut back on alcohol. Alcohol can lead to many heart-health issues, including abnormal heart rhythms. Most health experts agree men should drink no more than two glasses of wine per day, and women should limit it to one glass.
Reduce your sugar and salt intake. Too much sugar can lead to obesity, diabetes, and heart disease. Excess salt can also be bad for your heart as it can up your risk factors for heart disease. The American Heart Association recommends that men limit their added sugar to about nine teaspoons a day and that women keep it under six teaspoons. Try to keep added salt to under one teaspoon a day.
Maintain a healthy weight. Being overweight can be a precursor to obesity, which comes with many chronic issues, including heart disease. Talk with your doctor about the best ways to reduce body weight, whether that means revising your diet or undergoing weight-loss surgery.
Take a nap. Getting enough zzz’s is huge for your heart health. If you’re not getting the recommended seven hours, lie down for a quick snooze during the day. The Sleep Foundation reports that the ideal nap length for adults is about 20 minutes but no longer than 30. If you rest for longer than a half-hour, you’re more likely to wake up feeling groggy.