February is American Heart Month!
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.
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.
Here are some facts, how-to tips, and resources to inspire you to join with others to improve your heart health.
Why Connecting is Good for Your Heart
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.
Follow these heart healthy lifestyle tips with your friends, family, coworkers, and others in your community and you’ll all be heart healthier for it:
- Be more physically active.
- Maintain a healthy weight.
- Eat a nutritious diet.
- Quit smoking.
- Reduce your stress.
- Get enough quality sleep.
- Track your heart health stats.
You don’t have to make big changes all at once. Small steps will get you where you want to go.
- Invite family, friends, colleagues, or members of your community to join you in your efforts to be more physically active.
- Don’t let limited mobility keep you at home.
- Ask a neighbor or friend to walk with you on a regular basis, put the date on both your calendars, and text or call to make sure you both show up.
- Join an exercise class at your local community center and bring a neighbor along. Carpool or walk there together to make it a regular date.
- Make your social time active and encourage everyone—family and friends alike—to think of fun activities that get you off the couch and moving.
How much exercise is enough?
Aim for at least 2½ hours of physical activity each week—that’s just 30 minutes a day, 5 days a week. In addition, do muscle strengthening exercises 2 days a week. Can’t carve out a lot of time in your day? Don’t chuck your goal, chunk it! Try 10 or 15 minutes a few times a day.
Eat heart healthy
We tend to eat like our friends and family, so ask others close to you to join in your effort to eat healthier.
To help you quit, ask others for support or join a support group. Research shows that people are much more likely to quit if their spouse, friend, or sibling does. Social support online can also help you quit. All states have quit lines with trained counselors—call 1-800-QUIT-NOW (1-800-784-8669).
Reducing stress helps your heart health. Join with a friend or family member to do a relaxing activity every day, like walking, yoga, or meditation, or participate in a stress management program together. Physical activity also helps reduce stress. Talk to a qualified mental health provider or someone else you trust.
Sleeping 7–8 hours a night helps to improve heart health. De-stressing will help you sleep, as does getting a 30-minute daily dose of sunlight. Take a walk instead of a late afternoon nap! Family members and friends: remind each other to turn off the screen and stick to a regular bedtime. Instead of watching TV before bed, relax by listening to music, reading, or taking a bath.
For a sleep apnea sufferer using a CPAP machine, he or she needs to use it consistently and keep it clean.
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 your success!