Happy Heart Month: 4 Ways to Improve Your Heart Health Now

Happy Heart Month: 4 Ways to Improve Your Heart Health Now

This time of year, you can’t walk into a store without seeing large clusters of heart-shaped balloons and row after row of Valentine’s candy. It’s hard not to associate February with Valentine’s Day! 

But this month is about more than romantic cards and candlelit dinners – February is American Heart Month. It’s a time to shine a light on the importance of improving our heart health and preventing heart disease.

This year, the federally designated observance has taken on even greater significance, as the coronavirus can directly impact heart health. Recent research shows that in some cases COVID-19 may affect the heart and vascular system negatively.

COVID-19 has also impacted Americans’ health indirectly: with team sports and road races canceled for the season, and many gyms and fitness studios closed indefinitely, it’s been a lot harder to find ways to stay physically fit. Additionally, worldwide lockdowns make it tempting to spend all those hours at home eating poorly and drinking more alcohol. In excess, these behaviors can contribute to heart disease, which is already the leading cause of death in Hawai’i. In fact, stroke and cardiovascular disease are the cause of nearly 4,000 deaths statewide per year. Every year, more than 18,000 hospitalizations in Hawaii are the result of cardiovascular disease.

While heart disease continues to be the greatest health threat to Hawai’i residents, there is good news: cardiovascular disease is largely preventable! 

Here are some of the American Heart Associations’ top ways to prevent cardiovascular disease:

1. Determine if you are at risk. Factors such as a family history of heart disease or kidney disease can increase your risk of heart disease. Smokers and those with conditions such as diabetes, high cholesterol, high blood pressure (hypertension), and high blood sugar are a greater risk. 

Fortunately, you can make lifestyle changes that reduce your risk of heart disease and prevent many cardiovascular conditions including: Having a healthy diet, exercising regularly, reducing stress, maintaining a healthy weight, and quitting smoking. 

From smoking to vaping to chewing, all tobacco products increase your risk of heart disease. Period. But quitting can be challenging!      

Don’t go it alone and do not try to trade one tobacco product for another. Seek the help of your healthcare team and the support of your family and friends to become tobacco-free for good. Your heart and lungs will thank you! *

2. Determine what medication you should and should not take. If you have a preexisting health condition, work with a healthcare professional who can help you determine what medications will help to control your blood pressure, blood sugar, and cholesterol. Take all your prescribed medications as directed.

Talk to your doctor about taking aspirin, especially if you’ve never suffered a stroke or heart attack.* Taking aspirin daily has been known to actually cause health problems rather than prevent them. If you have had a stroke or heart attack, talk to your doctor about whether or not a low dose of aspirin will help you prevent another one. 

3. Eat smarter. At first this may take some planning, but healthy eating can be fun and affordable! Take some time each week to plan your meals by finding dishes and recipes that are based on fruits, veggies, legumes, whole grains, plant-based proteins, and nuts. Families with limited resources can swap out red meat in recipes for fish and lean animal proteins.  

Then create a shopping list based on the nutrient-dense meals you choose. If you do choose to purchase packaged foods, be sure to read the nutrition facts label and avoid products with added salts, sugars, trans fat, and saturated fats. When it comes to snacking and dining out, limit your intake of processed meats, refined carbohydrates, and sweetened drinks. 

4. Stay active. Work with a medical professional to lose weight if you are overweight. Even if you aren’t trying to lose weight, there are an abundance of reasons to move more! *

Working out can improve your quality of sleep, help you focus, reduce stress… and it happens to be one of the best ways to prevent disease and protect your heart. Aim for a minimum of 75 minutes of brisk activity each week or 150 minutes of moderately-intense aerobic activity. 

Here at PATH, one of our favorite ways to get active and maintain the health of our hearts is by biking! Studies suggest that if you bike as little as 20 miles per week, then you can decrease your chance of suffering from heart disease by around 50%. 

Here’s the reason why:

Cycling recruits the large muscle groups in your legs to propel you forward, which gives your heart rate a boost and ultimately leads to improved cardiovascular fitness.

Not only is riding a bike an effective form of heart-friendly exercise, it’s also a fun form of recreation and even transportation. According to the American Heart Association,  biking can help you turn your commute into a workout, since you’ve already set that time aside to travel to work. Your bike can be your vehicle of transportation and your exercise equipment simultaneously! 

On Hawai’i Island, cycling is now more accessible than ever! With multiple HIBIKE (formerly Bikeshare Hawaii Island) stations throughout Hilo and Kona, and more planned for the coming year, you can easily use the bikes as a great transportation option for the first or last mile of your commute to work or school, or just for fun and fitness. HIBIKE Membership is FREE to all Hele-On monthly pass holders. 

Find out more about HIBIKE (formerly Bikeshare Hawaii) here: Hawai’i Bikeshare 

and HIBIKE for Mass Transit pass holders here: Hele-On, Ride On Hawai’i

And ride your way to a healthy heart this February! 

* All content found in this blog post was created for informational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Before starting a new exercise program or beginning or stopping medications consult with your physician. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or disease. And never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. If you think you may have a medical emergency, call your doctor, go to the ER, or call 911 immediately.