February is American Heart Month, making it a great time to pause and consider what we are doing for our hearts. After all, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, around 610,000 people die every year in the U.S. because of heart disease. That’s one out of every fourth deaths. Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the country. Add to that the fact that Americans suffer around 735,000 heart attacks each year, and it’s clear to see that we as a nation need to cut the excuses and start giving our hearts a little more love and attention.
“Most people know what it takes for a healthy heart, but they are often filled with excuses of why they don’t take steps to make it happen,” explains Coach Sarah Walls, personal trainer and owner of SAPT Strength & Performance Training, Inc., who is also the strength and conditioning coach for the WNBA’s Washington Mystics. “Taking care of our heart health should be a top priority for everyone.”
According to the American Heart Association, someone has a stroke every 40 seconds in the country. By the time you finish reading this, there’s a good chance that three people in the country will have had a stroke. They also report that every four minutes, someone in the country dies of a stroke.
Many people feel they don’t have time to do what it takes to have a healthy heart, or they don’t want to put forth the effort. But without committing to it, they are putting themselves at risk of being one of the statistics, and possibly one of the fatal ones. Here are some tips for having a healthy heart:
Be physically active. Your heart is a muscle, and it needs exercise in order to be strong and healthy. The exercise that keeps it healthy is aerobic, such as brisk walking, running, biking, etc. Aim for getting at least 150 minutes per week of aerobic exercise in order to have a healthy heart. Find something you enjoy doing and then make it a priority to engage in it on a regular basis. If you have a desk job where you sit for long periods of time, set a timer so that for five minutes each hour you are up out of your chair moving around. Do a few exercises, take a walk down the hall, pace the floor as you talk on the phone, etc. It’s also important to include a couple of days of resistant training in your workout routine.
Eat well. Eating a healthy diet is important to having a healthy heart. Aim for eating a lot of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean protein sources. Fruits and vegetables are loaded with antioxidants that will help protect your health, so don’t skimp on them or in eating a wide variety of them.
Manage stress. It’s important to learn to manage your stress and be more mindful. When you focus on ways to reduce stress, such as doing yoga, Tai Chi, or meditation, you will find yourself calmer and more able to take on the day. When you are stressed, your body releases the hormone called cortisol. When you are chronically stressed, you are getting a lot of that hormone, which increases risks of a heart attack. It’s also helpful to practice having gratitude by focusing on the things you are thankful for in life. Some people find it helpful to keep a gratitude journal, where they write these things down daily.
Sleep sound. It’s important to get enough sleep each night in order to help have a healthy heart. According to the National Sleep Foundation, sleep is essential for a healthy heart. Those who don’t get enough of it can have disruptions in metabolism, blood pressure, and inflammation, which increase heart disease risks. If you have sleep issues that are preventing you from getting enough, be sure to address those problems to reduce the risks.
“We have to have a healthy heart to get the most out of life and live up to our full potential,” added Coach Walls. “Having a healthy heart is part of living an overall healthy lifestyle. This is something I’m passionate about and have helped many people to be successful with. A healthy heart starts with making a commitment to yourself. Remember, if it matters to you then you will find a way. If it doesn’t, then you will find an excuse.”
Sarah Walls has over 15 years experience in coaching and personal training. Owner of SAPT Strength & Performance Training, Inc, founded in 2007, she offers coaching to develop athletes, adult programs, team training, and has an online coaching program. She is also the strength and conditioning coach for the WNBA’s Washington Mystics, and has over eight years of experience working as an NCAA D1 strength and conditioning coach and personal trainer. To learn more, visit the site: www.saptstrength.com.