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It’s always a good time to pause and do a health and wellness check-in with yourself to kick off (or continue) a lifestyle that prioritizes heart health.
According to the CDC, heart disease is the leading cause of death for women in the United States. In 2020, it caused one in every five female deaths.
Let’s take a look at ways to be intentional about strengthening our heart — the hardest working muscle in our bodies.
No Time for Exercise? Focus on Movement
When COVID hit and transformed my work life into back-to-back calls with no breaks in between, I sat all day long. Each time my Apple Watch told me to stand up, I ignored the alert and stayed put.
Being sedentary wreaked havoc on my body. I gained weight, lost a lot of energy, and my annual physical showed that my cholesterol levels, an indicator of heart health, took a dip into the red zone. Ugh.
Here’s what I learned in my quest for improving my cholesterol: While the ultimate goal is to do 150 minutes of moderate exercise each week, a doable first goal is to simply work more movement into my days, starting with walking. This means that when my watch gives me a nudge, I stand up right away and walk around my house.
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Other ways I’m moving more:
- I set a five-minute timer and jog in place from room to room, up and down my stairs, around the kitchen island, anything to get my heart rate up.
- At times when I normally sit the entire duration, like waiting on my tire rotation or my son’s soccer practice, I now turn on a podcast and walk during a portion of that time instead.
- I plan ahead and look for times in my schedule, like long conference calls, when I can stand or walk instead of sit.
No need to exercise like an Olympian. We mainly need to keep our bodies active, even in short bursts, so our hearts get revved up to a healthy pace throughout the day.
Check-in: Do you need more movement in your daily life? What are three small, manageable ways you can move more today than you did yesterday?
When I first started seeing the term “macronutrients,” I rolled my eyes thinking it was some other super-athlete term that I wouldn’t be able to apply to myself without the help of a trainer or a nutritionist.
Macronutrients are proteins, carbohydrates, and fat, which are the main nutrient groups our bodies need to function at their best. When we choose yummy, healthy options from each of those groups and ensure all our meals have a combination of all three, our hearts will be beating for joy.
Food has been my Achilles heel since I was a kid. Yet the more I learn about macronutrients, the more I feel in control of my food choices. Don’t get me wrong, I still struggle and want sweets and wine every single day, but I have a better handle on how different foods help or hurt my body. This helps me make those tough choices.
Wondering where to start in being more mindful of macronutrients?
- Add lean protein to meals. Pay special attention to eating three to five ounces of lean proteins like eggs, chicken, fish, and tofu in every meal.
- Gain new perspective on carbohydrates. Many of us think of carbs as white pasta, white bread, and white rice, all of which should be eaten in moderation. Instead, when you think of carbs think of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains like quinoa, oats, and brown rice that will help boost heart health.
- Embrace healthy fats. This includes avocado, nuts, seeds, and olive oil. Our bodies need healthy fats like this in small amounts rather than fat from processed and high-sugar foods. Those fats can be harmful to your heart.
Get to know the nutrition labels for your favorite foods and start using a food scale to help you understand serving sizes. A great upside of a food scale is there’s no need for measuring cups and spoons!
Check-in: What do you have planned for dinner tonight? Is every macronutrient group on your menu? If not, can you substitute a less healthy item for a healthier one?
Sleep Is Essential to Heart Health
I often see emails from a fellow mom with a sent time of 1:00 or 2:00 a.m. That’s been me on more than one occasion. All I’ll say is that we need to stop doing that to ourselves and prioritize our sleep.
For optimum health, we need seven to nine hours of sleep. My bedtime tends to be 11:30 p.m. with a wake time of 6:30 a.m., which is seven hours of sleep. But I find that an ideal bedtime for me is 10:30 p.m., which gives me eight hours of sleep.
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Check-in: How many hours of sleep did you get last night? If it was less than seven, what’s a change you can make to get to seven hours of sleep?
Health Education Goes Well Beyond High School
If you’ve read any of my pieces, you’ll know that I’m big on continued education. This includes learning about our bodies, especially as we age.
Following health coaches, trainers, and nutritionists on social media is a great way to get information and inspiration. Some of my favorites on Instagram are @ellenludwigfitness, @downshiftology, @collegenutritionist, and @niketraining.
And while I was looking for this book at Half Price Books, I found Find Your Path by country music star Carrie Underwood. I bought it because Carrie looks strong and fit each time I see her on television. I highly recommend this book for anyone wanting to adopt a healthy lifestyle. It includes all the basics with great fitness and nutrition tips that are central to great heart health.