It’s that day, that week, that month. Shelves are lined with red this and pink that. Dangling heart streamers are strewn across storefronts. Chocolate, in every form, is on sale and florists, from sea to shining sea, are prepping for peak season. Love is most definitely in the air.
The annual ooey-gooey lovey-dovey February season is something that you anticipate with either open arms, rolling eyes, or straight-up indifference. You’re free to be subjective on the sugary sweet stuff.
You do, however, need to put your subjectivity aside regarding what else this month is known for. Heart Health.
Your heart. Well, needless to say, it’s important. It’s your lifeline, after all. This topic is something that everyone has to embrace with open arms. Eye rolls have no place here.
A few facts:
- Over 1 in 10 American adults have been diagnosed with Heart Disease.
- More than 800,000 Americans die from cardiovascular disease every year.
- Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States.
These frightening statistics are the reason why there is a whole month dedicated to the heart. Hearts are under attack. Literally. Your risk of developing cardiovascular disease increases with age and is also based on your ethnicity and family history. All of that is out of your control. What you can control, however, is where your focus should lie. It’s up to you to protect your heart.
Keeping your heart in tip-top tick-tock shape is massively important in order to avoid massive heart issues. So after you pick up those roses and boxes of chocolate, take a minute to brush up on how you can keep that heart of yours beating sweetly.
LOVE TO EXERCISE
According to the world-renowned Cleveland Clinic, exercise is the “single most important key to heart health.”
For one, exercising regularly keeps you at a healthy weight. And when you have your weight in check, you’re putting less strain and stress on your body’s systems, including your heart.
Second, is how exercise affects your resting heart rate, specifically cardio/aerobic exercise, with CKO Kickboxing being a prime example. As you exercise your muscles are at work and, in response, your heart is put to work as well, pumping out the increased amount of blood required to properly support those active muscles. In time your heart is stronger, works more efficiently, can hold more blood and can pump more blood with each beat. The heart, then, doesn’t need to beat as much to do its job.
In essence, when you regularly incorporate cardiovascular exercise into your life’s routine, your resting heart rate will drop. A lower resting heart rate has been linked to a decreased risk of heart health issues.
What also drops with cardiovascular exercise is your blood pressure. John Hopkins Medicine finds elevated blood pressure to be “a major risk factor for heart disease.” Strength training also helps keep your blood pressure in check and is recommended for a better stronger heart.
Any exercise is a plus, but some workouts deliver more bang for your buck in protecting your ticker. Aerobic exercise in conjunction with strength training is the ideal combo; exactly what you do at CKO Kickboxing.
LOVE LOSE THE SWEETS
You’re inevitably going to indulge in a few sweets here and there, especially this time of year, but, for the most part, refrain. And it’s not just sweets. You know what’s good for you and what’s not.
Sugar and Sodium
According to an article by Harvard Health Publishing, “Consuming too much added sugar can raise blood pressure and increase chronic inflammation, both of which are pathological pathways to heart disease.”
There’s no nutritional benefit to food with added sugar, yet we eat it. A lot of it. If you’re someone with a sweet tooth, avoiding sugar can be tough. The American Heart Association recommends the daily intake of sugar be no more than 9 teaspoons for men and 6 teaspoons for women.
Satisfy your sweet craving by eating foods with natural sugar. Fruits, nut butters, low sugar yogurts, and dark chocolate are great choices. If you’re someone who needs a sweetener for your tea or oatmeal, grab some honey or natural maple syrup.
Along with keeping your sugar intake low, the same goes for sodium. Too much sodium has been linked to an increase in blood pressure, which can also lead to heart disease. Forget processed foods and frozen entrees and pass on the salt. Instead, to add flavor, grab some fresh or dried herbs, cook up some garlic or onions or simply spritz with lemon or lime juice.
How often do you hear someone say “No carb” or “Low carb”? Carbohydrates have received a bad wrap but avoiding carbs is a no-no. Choosing the right carbs is the key.
Pass on things like sugary drinks, processed foods and white bread. Complex carbohydrates such as oats, beans, vegetables and whole-grain foods provide longer-lasting energy in your body, preventing the weight gain and plaque build-up that can lead to poor heart health.
Foods high in saturated and trans fats. These are the “bad” fats. Saturated fats should be eaten sparingly. These include red meats, bacon, hot dogs, butter, mayo and whole-milk dairy products. Too much saturated fat causes cholesterol build-up in your arteries and increases your risk of heart disease.
Trans fats should be avoided at all costs. Think baked goods, processed foods and fried foods. Just say no! Swap out for “good” fats such as chicken, fish, nuts, seeds, avocado, olive oil and low-fat milks, yogurts and cheeses.
LOVE TO CHILL
Stress. That word that carries with it so much power. It’s something that, unfortunately, you, or anyone for that matter, can’t wholly avoid. And it’s something that can do some serious damage to your heart. Reducing your stress is easier said than done, but your heart depends on it.
Stress increases blood pressure, blood sugar and can cause you to take on bad habits like unhealthy eating, which elevates those bad cholesterol levels in your body. All of this adds up to a big risk for heart disease.
Lower your stress levels by simple breathing exercises, meditation and exercise. Many people turn to exercise and it turns out that Cardio Kickboxing is one of the best ways to kick stress to the curb.
Striking a bag releases muscle tension, boosts those feel-good endorphins and because the workout requires concentration, you’re able to let go of those stressors and simply focus on the workout in front of you. This high-intensity workout helps lower, not only stress, but feelings that stem from depression and anxiety as well. And let’s be honest. Sometimes punching a bag is the best thing you can do to fight back against those stressors in your life!
So, fight for your heart by hitting the bag, making healthy eating choices and taking control of life’s stressors. Whether you buy into the love season or not, make sure that, no matter what, you show your heart a little love!
Kimberly Oley is a self-employed content writer and strategist who began as Contributing CKO Author in 2018.