Self-Care for Heart Health
It’s February – the time of year when we’re feeling heavy-hearted from the toll of the long Canadian winter. For many of us, the shortest month of the year can feel like the longest.
February also marks Heart Health Month, where recognition and awareness of issues surrounding cardiovascular disease – the second leading cause of death for Canadians – are brought to the forefront.
Despite winter blues and the heaviness of heart disease, February also carries with it a lighthearted spirit (we’re looking at you, St. Valentine), and there’s no better time of year to focus on self-care.
Self-care isn’t just a trending hashtag – or taking a bubble bath on a Saturday night! It’s a movement of taking accountability and action for our own personal health and wellness. Resonating self-care encompasses holistic lifestyle choices – that influence our physical, mental and emotional wellness! While it may feel like a bit of work, a shift towards healthier lifestyle habits can change the course of your winter well-being – and fortify your heart’s health!
Healthy Habits - The Best Cure
Weaving exercise into your everyday routine, whether it be walking, swimming, running or yoga is a great defense for your cardiovascular health. Even smaller efforts, like opting for the stairs adds up to benefit your health.
Nutrition is paramount – and eating whole, fresh foods is a simple strategy for filling a heart-friendly grocery cart. Reducing sugar intake, processed foods, mindful salt consumption and avoiding unhealthy fats are also good rules of thumb for a heart-smart diet. Build a meal plan around foods with plenty of fibre, fresh fruit and veggies, whole grains, lean proteins and plenty of healthy fats that nourish a healthy body, heart and cardiovascular system! And shake it up! Adding a little variety is always fun and can introduce a greater spectrum of nutrients into the diet.
We take our state of mind to heart – literally! Chronic stress, or repeated episodes of severe, acute stress can have significant negative effects on our cardiovascular functioning. When we experience stress (which we all do), we can feel it in our body: our muscles tense and our heart rate quickens. But there are also effects that we may not immediately be aware of, like elevated blood pressure and an accumulation of inflammation in the circulatory system. Regular bouts of stress have been linked to unhealthy lifestyle habits like smoking and excessive alcohol intake, a risky combination where your heart is concerned.
While avoiding stress isn’t always possible in our everyday life, taking conscious steps to manage it can help. Tactics that help to reduce stress in the workplace can offer relief, and adaptogenic herbs are found to be very helpful by some to help the body cope with psychological stress.
Meditation and exercise are all great tools in managing stress levels, as is the practice of cultivating happiness. Not only will you feel better in your day-to-day life, your relationships and your heart health will reap the benefits.
Try a Little TLC
The “winter blues” can bring down even the cheeriest of us – but kindness can offer a lift! Valentine’s Day offers a fun opportunity share gestures of love, which can generate benefits other than just the “warm fuzzies”. Intentional acts of kindness nourish the soul and have even been found to support heart health through the generation of feel-good hormones that counter anxiety and tension.
Volunteering, investing in positive relationships and even your -snuggling your pets can also give your heart health a boost. It turns out that extending your self-care towards others amplifies the benefits!
Also, back to that bubble bath: building a foundation of healthy habits includes indulging in decadent acts of self-care too! This includes spa days, sleeping in past your usual gym-time, the occasional Netflix binge and a glass of (organic) red wine and some dark chocolate, if it should make a romantic appearance.
So, February can be a heartening month after all! Investing in some self-care for long-term health benefits can fortify your wellness, lift the spirits, and play a part in changing the statistics of heart disease.