5 Ways to Love Your Heart this Valentine’s Day
I love Valentine’s Day. I’ll take any excuse to tell those I care about how important they are to me. That includes telling you how much I care about you and your heart health. Heart disease is the number one killer of both women and men. There are simple steps you can take, every day, to tell your HEART how much you care about it and how you want to help it keep beating happily for many, many years to come. While it sounds like a Nutritional Therapy Practitioner would mostly care about nutrition, I focus on the individual as a whole and how both food and lifestyle can help support a well-balanced, healthy body with less chance of developing dis-ease. Studies have shown that common atherosclerotic heart disease is not genetic, but rather a result of both eating an unhealthy diet and unhealthy lifestyle habits.
You should feel empowered! You have a lot of control over the health of your heart!
Which of these nutritional and lifestyle recommendations can you incorporate in your daily life? Pick one to work on today and for the week ahead, then add another. Incorporating any of these, or even better, all five, into your life will make your heart-and the rest of your body-thank you! (I saved one of my favorites for last so be sure to get to number 5!)
1. Eat more colorful vegetables and fruits.
There’s a very good reason why eating more vegetables comes up all the time. The more colors on your plate, the more protective properties such as antioxidants, phytonutrients, vitamins and minerals you are giving your body. Antioxidants help protect your cells from damage done by free radicals which are unstable molecules that can harm cellular structure and eventually can led to disease. Free radicals are difficult to avoid and can be caused by both internal and external sources, such as environmental pollutants, radiation, pesticides, cigarette smoke, alcohol, bad oils, inflammation and even exercise. Troubles can start, however, “when the critical balance between free radical generation and antioxidant defenses is unfavorable”. This is when oxidative stress occurs, potentially leading to a variety of conditions including heart disease.
Some fruits and vegetables* with the most potent antioxidants include:
- blueberries and other berries
- dark colored grapes
- dark green veggies
- sweet potatoes and other orange vegetables
- citrus fruit
- Two other top sources of antioxidants include green tea and nuts, especially walnuts
*Organic fruits and vegetables are highly recommended, especially those whose skin you eat
2. Drink More Water
Our bodies are 55-60% water. The liquid portion of our blood, or blood plasma, is made up of 92% water. When you are dehydrated your blood volume decreases, requiring your body to retain more sodium in your blood, which then leads to high blood pressure. Thick, viscous blood is harder to circulate throughout your body, raising blood pressure even more.  Drink more water and help that blood flow freely!
Ways to Drink More Water
- Drink a glass when you wake up, before doing anything else
- Have a stainless steel or glass water bottle with you at all times; on your commute, at your desk, on errands and at kids’ events
- Set a water timer on your phone for every 30-60 minutes and take a few sips of water
- Aim to drink ½ your weight in ounces of clean, filtered or mineral water each day
3. Move Every Day
The best exercise for your heart is the one you will do every day! Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride, MD, states in Put Your Heart in Your Mouth that “moderate but consistent exercise is the best for your heart and your overall health.” You don’t have to run a marathon, just get out there and MOVE!
According to an analysis of 22 studies that included more than 320,000 adults, modest activity—even as little as one hour of walking or gardening per week—was linked to lower rates of heart attack, stroke, and death from all causes. One study found that people who did moderate exercise just 15 minutes a day tended to live an average of three years longer than their inactive peers. 
Ways to Move Daily
- Don’t insist on the closest parking spot! Park farther away, walk a little more and/or take the stairs
- Walk your kids to or from school
- Make a date with a friend to go for a walk or hike
- Explore new trails with your family on the weekends
- In a pinch for time? Choose a 7 minute high-intensity interval training (HIIT) workout on an app…everyone can make time for that!
- Set a timer to get up and walk for 5 minutes if you are sitting for hours at a desk (and use the bathroom because you are drinking so much water!)
4. Prioritize Quality Sleep
Quality sleep and enough of it is essential for both heart health and overall health. A 2011 summary of findings from 15 studies found that people who slept fewer than 6 hours a night had a 50% higher risk of dying from coronary heart disease seven to 25 years later. They also found that taking a half hour or more to fall asleep makes you 52% more likely to have ischemic heart disease. Sleep deprivation has been linked to high blood pressure, increased calcium deposits and an increased chance of developing metabolic syndrome which further increases your chance of heart disease.  Love your heart and make getting 8 hours a night a priority!
How to Improve Your Sleep
- Create a regular sleep routine, including turning off all electronics at least 30-60 minutes before sleep
- Create an optimal sleep environment in your bedroom (window treatments to block all lights, cool temperature, cozy bed and linens)
- Add calming essential oils, like lavender, to your routine in diffusers or on your pillow
- Avoid alcohol and caffeine close to bedtime
- Keep your sleep schedule 7 days a week, but add some additional sleep on weekends if you need it
- Take relaxing, meditative deep breaths as you prepare for sleep
- Going to bed before 11:00 pm gives you more restorative sleep because you are sleeping with your natural circadian rhythm (even if you get the same amount of sleep going to bed after midnight!)
5. Connect with Others and LAUGH!
Isn’t that a great one? Meaningful connections with other people, people you enjoy spending time with, has shown to reduce your blood pressure and improve your heart and overall health. If you felt like you needed an excuse to make fun plans with your family and friends, you now have it! Laughter can reduce your blood pressure, improve your heart health, relieve pain and reduce anxiety and stress. Do something every day that makes you happy and in doing so you will create positive, healing biochemistry in your body. 
Ways to Connect
- Make dates with friends
- Watch silly cat videos (or whatever makes you laugh!)
- Find a funny show to watch together with your family (Ellen’s Game of Games is a good one!)
- Have a family game night and play games that make you laugh, like Apples to Apples
- What makes you laugh and smile?? Figure it out and do it!
I hope your day is full of reminders of how much you are loved and valued. Be sure those reminders come from you as well-love yourself and do something to show that love every day. If you are interested in working with me one-on-one to develop a wellness plan for you based on your specific health goals, please schedule a complimentary discovery call on my services page.
The information provided in or through my Website is not to be perceived or relied upon in any way as medical advice or mental health advice, nor does it create a practitioner-patient relationship in any way. I am not providing health care, medical or nutritional therapy services or attempting to diagnose, treat, prevent or cure in any manner whatsoever any physical ailment, or any mental or emotional issue, disease or condition pertaining to any individual outside of an established patient relationship that I currently may have with that person. In addition, my Website, Programs and Services are not intended to be a substitute for the professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment that can be provided by your own Medical Provider (including advanced practice nurse, physician, physician’s assistant, or any other licensed health professional), Mental Health Provider (including psychiatrist, psychologist, therapist, counselor, or social worker). The information contained on this Website or provided through my Programs and Services has not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration.
 The End of Heart Disease by Joel Fuhrman, M.D.
 Put Your Heart in Your Mouth by Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride, MD