February Is Heart Month: Celebrate Together
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Did you know that people who have close relationships at home, work, or in their community tend to be healthier and live longer? One reason, according to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI), is that we’re more successful at meeting our health goals when we join forces with others. NHLBI launched the #OurHearts movement to inspire us to protect and strengthen our hearts with the support of others.
Feeling connected with others and having positive, close relationships benefit our overall health, including our blood pressure and weight. Having people in our lives who motivate and care for us helps, as do feelings of closeness and companionship.
If you worry that you or someone you love will develop heart disease or experience a heart attack, it’s understandable. Heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women in the United States. About 90 percent of middle-aged people and more than 74 percent of young adults have one or more risk factors for heart disease, such as diabetes, high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol, or being a smoker or overweight. Having multiple risk factors increases your risk for heart disease.
Research shows you can lower your risk, particularly if you team up with family, friends or co-workers. This kind of social support may be the key to success. Even with in-person restrictions due to the COVID pandemic, there are many ways to support others in their journey toward heart-healthy living.
Here are five tips to help lower your risk of heart disease and support family and friends in doing the same:
Solution: Move more throughout your day. Aim for at least 150 minutes each week of physical activity. Build up to activity that gets your heart beating faster and leaves you a little breathless. If you’re busy, try breaking your daily activity into 10-minute chunks.
Stay motivated: Make walking dates. Join an online fitness class. Dance to your favorite music. Make family time active and encourage family members to think of fun activities that get everyone off the couch and moving.
Risk: An unhealthy diet
Solution: We tend to eat like our friends and family, so ask others close to you to join in your effort to eat healthier. Consider NHLBI’s Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) eating plan, which is free and scientifically proven to lower high blood pressure and improve cholesterol levels. The Mediterranean-style eating pattern is also healthy and, like the DASH plan, is recommended by the Dietary Guidelines. Find delicious recipes at NHLBI’s Eat Heart Healthy or Med Instead of Meds.
Stay motivated: Cook up heart-healthy recipes together. Start a lunch club at work and trade recipe ideas. Attend an online cooking class like NC State Extension’s Cook Smart Eat Smart class go.ncsu.edu/virtualcses.
Risk: Smoking, even occasionally
Solution: Quitting can be beneficial to your overall health, even if you’ve smoked for years. Set a quit date and let those close to you know. If you’ve tried quitting in the past, consider what helped and what made it harder.
Stay motivated: Ask your family and friends for support or join a support group. Find resources and connect with a trained counselor at 1-800-QUIT-NOW or Smoke Free. If you need extra motivation to quit, consider those around you: Breathing other people’s smoke, called secondhand smoke, is dangerous. Thousands of adult nonsmokers die of stroke, heart disease, and lung cancer caused by secondhand smoke.
Risk: Inadequate or poor-quality sleep
Solution: Sleeping 7-8 hours each night helps improve heart health. Try going to bed and waking up at the same time each day. Getting a 30-minute daily dose of sunlight may also improve sleep.
Stay motivated: Resist that late afternoon nap. Turn off all screens at a set time nightly. Relax by listening to music, reading, or taking a bath.
Risk: Uncontrolled stress
Solution: To help manage stress, try relaxation therapy and increase physical activity. Talk to a qualified mental health provider or someone you trust. De-stressing may also help improve sleep.
Stay motivated: Join a friend or family member in a relaxing activity like walking, yoga, or meditation every day.
You don’t have to make big changes all at once. Small steps will get you where you want to go. For inspiration on what others around the country are doing together for their heart health, visit #OurHearts. Use #OurHearts on social media to share how you and your friends, colleagues, or family members are being heart-healthy together.