Is Valentine’s Day a big deal for you? Roses and chocolates, heart signs everywhere…do you love everything about the day? Perhaps you have a delightful surprise planned for your loved one – a fun night out or a quiet romantic dinner. Maybe you’re still looking for that special someone. Or perhaps you could care less about Valentine’s Day because there are more important things in life! Whether you celebrate the day or not, everyone benefits from having a healthy heart.
The human body is an amazingly complex machine, and your heart is the engine that drives it. Like a car engine, it needs the right fuel, regular tune-ups, and its parts will rust if you don’t use it regularly. Here are five ways to a healthy heart for life:
- Eat well
Your heart needs healthy food for fuel, not junk food. Lots of soluble fiber will prevent your arteries from clogging. Vegetables, especially leafy green ones and fresh fruit with a variety of colors, will provide the right amount of fiber and antioxidants. Whole grains and root vegetables like sweet potatoes are also an excellent source of fiber and nutrients. For nutritious sources of protein, go for fish, lean meats, and beans, and lentils. It’s not a good idea to cook with palm oil because it has mostly saturated fat, which is bad for your heart. Olive oil and other vegetable oils are much healthier for you. Take a low salt, low sugar approach to everything you eat and drink. Drink lots of water, at least 2 liters daily, and keep alcohol to a minimum.
- Get fit
You’ve heard this a million times, probably because it’s fact-based scientific evidence. Regular exercise – at least 30 minutes a day for five days or more per week – keeps your heart healthy. When combined with a healthy diet, it provides stamina, lowers blood sugar and cholesterol, improves your mood, and helps you maintain a healthy weight. Exercising regularly can prevent high blood pressure, heart attack, stroke, diabetes, and obesity. It even improves already established diabetes or high blood pressure and reduces obesity. You don’t need a gym or expensive equipment to exercise. A brisk daily walk or jogging will do the trick. The main thing is to avoid being inactive, especially if your job is sedentary. Make it a habit to get up from your desk every hour or so to walk around for a minute.
- Sleep well
Sleep is the most underestimated function of your body. It’s part of the daily tune-up your heart needs. Sleep is restorative, having the amazing power to:
- Reboot your brain
- Repair your tissues
- Strengthen your immune system
- Balance out your stress hormones.
Every adult should aim for 7 – 8 hours of sleep daily. The timing is also critical. Sleeping from 10 pm to 6 am provides better quality sleep than sleeping from 1 am – 9 am. Research shows that getting enough sleep reduces plaque build-up in the coronary arteries, protecting against a heart attack. People who sleep early, before midnight, also have healthier arteries than those who sleep after midnight.
- Manage stress
Stress, regardless of the trigger, causes a rise in the stress hormone cortisol. Cortisol increases blood sugar, stiffens arteries, and increases your blood pressure and abdominal fat. Stress is bad news for your heart. Know what triggers your stress and apply the Four ‘A’s of stress management to each situation – Avoid, Alter, Adapt, or Accept. Try to change the circumstances or change your reaction to the stressor. Be deliberate in making time to relax and connect in a meaningful way with others. It improves the quality of your life.
- Learn to forgive and move on
William Shakespeare, in his book, The Merchant of Venice, wrote:
“The quality of mercy is not strained,
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath: it is twice blest;
It blesseth him that gives and him that takes.”
In essence, forgiveness is good not only for the one who receives forgiveness but also for the person who forgives. Bitterness, resentment, and being unforgiving, stress the human spirit, resulting in the build-up of the stress hormone, cortisol. Cortisol, we know, is harmful to the heart. Learn to forgive fully and move on with life.