February is American Heart Month, our annual reminder to take care of our hearts because, frankly, heart disease is the leading cause of death for men, women, and people of most racial and ethnic groups in the U.S. The statistics go on from there and they are all just as scary. Check out the CDC and the American Heart Association for more information.
Our current reality has also, harshly, highlighted the importance of good health, while simultaneously doing little to make improving our own easier. We are restricted, sedentary, stressed and grieving; we try to cook and eat healthy but end up in the drive thru lane too often. We’re human and all coping as best we can. We know that better physical health is important, but this year especially it feels like making a change is harder than ever. Life is already quite challenging; are we really motivated enough for hard?
Well, no, I mean, wait, yes! What I mean is, big change is hard but smaller changes are easier, and they can still make a real difference. Especially in terms of heart health. Changes in diet and exercise affect blood pressure, cholesterol, weight, and other factors. Plus, incremental lifestyle changes often last longer than wholesale revamping. Small and manageable. That, I’m ready for. What does manageable but meaningful look like right now?
Do this first for your heart
If you haven’t had a physical since…hmmm…schedule one. And keep the appointment. Untreated illnesses are, by definition, more deadly. Heart disease in women is historically underdiagnosed. At the very least, take your blood pressure the next time you see one of those machines at the pharmacy or with an at home meter (they cost about $35). Seriously! Hypertension is literally a silent killer. Knowledge is power. Early intervention saves lives. Simple things can make a difference. If you have lost your access to healthcare, I am so sorry. President Biden has reopened the Affordable Care Act enrollment period and there is other help available, especially for children.
Small changes in nutrition
For example, giving up soda or caffeine forever? That sounds daunting, downright horrible even. The absoluteness of it can be fatal to the effort. How about substituting water for just one of your beverage choices each day? What about not giving up anything but instead adding something good. Have a yogurt and Oreos, or a banana with your iced vanilla latte. Going meatless just one meal a week has tangible health benefits. Preparing meals from scratch instantly cuts down the amount of salt and sugar we eat. Order the grilled chicken sandwich instead of the fried.
Modest changes in activity
Instant way to be more active? When you are on the phone, stand up and walk around if you can. Not everyone can do this, but can you sit outside? If it’s sunny, soak up some fresh air and Vitamin D. Simply stretching for a few minutes each morning, and again throughout the day, can help avoid muscle strains, back aches, and reduce tension. There’s a reason why athletes warm up! Whatever you do, get in motion as much as you can. It’s nice if you have an hour to go for a run or to the gym (remember that?) but 10 minutes of dancing in the kitchen does a lot of good too. Use the time you have. Honestly, little changes can make a difference and they add up for a bigger cumulative effect.
We can do this
I am far from getting it right, but I’m trying! I’ll continue taking Riley and Rory for walks and try to say yes more often when my friends invite me on one of their super challenging hikes. I will strive to eat fewer Nerds, my go to meeting snack. I want to amplify American Hearth Month’s message of health for myself and others. We are living in challenging times, true, but that’s another reason to embrace what we can change and control.
We can help each other simply by taking care of ourselves. We will be a stronger society in the aggregate if we take better care of ourselves individually. We all have jobs with responsibilities, and then the rest of our responsibilities on top of that, but there must be room within there to take care of ourselves. Without our health, we are little use to anyone. So, let’s be supportive of each other, especially now, and make some changes for our health. Think small – it works!