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Happy Heart Month! The Secret to Heart Health

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HAPPY HEART, HAPPY LIFE!

Happy February! February is American heart month, a time to assess our healthy (and maybe not so healthy) habits. For women especially it is extremely important to be aware of our personal risk factors, familial risk factors, and bad habits that may put us a risk for heart attacks, stroke, high blood pressure, overall heart disease in the future.

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Exercise: Often when I am seeing women in the office, we discuss the benefits of exercise. The heart is, essentially, one big muscle. The more we use it, the more efficient it becomes as well as stronger. One thing I stress to women, is exercise doesn’t mean going to the often intimidating gym (everyone knows how I feel about the gym: Be……Happy? What my gym experience taught me about self-care and self-love. ) for 2 hours a day, dedicating your life to becoming an insta-famous fitness model, and becoming the burpee champion in your office. Exercise just means staying active. It means walking more throughout the day (ie taking the stairs, parking far away, walking a lap around the grocery store before actually shopping). I started wearing a step-tracker a few years ago and I was shocked how little I actually walked in my daily routine, and how big of a difference small changes really made in my overall step count.

Knowing your numbers: Two of the top three leading causes of heart disease are high blood pressure and high cholesterol. Seeing your physician can help gauge where you stand, what your numbers are, and what you need to do to make better choices to improve them.  Another important number to know is your BMI. This can be misleading depending on body type, but overall is a good guide as to where your weight should be in relationship to your height. Diet very heavily affects blood pressure and cholesterol, as well as central obesity, so minimizing fried food, extra salt, processed food and complex carbs can help significantly to improve both your cholesterol and blood pressure.

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Speaking of diet: I am writing this post in Chicago, which is the pizza haven of the world. I love pizza. Thin crust, deep dish, veggie, pineapple, etc etc etc. The trick to eating healthier isn’t trying to eliminate everything good in your life, but what I call, accessorizing your dinner. Eat some veggies (peppers, asparagus, broccoli) before chowing down. Also, check the labels. A common misconception is that fruit juice is healthy because it is fruit. IT IS NOT. It is full of sugar and probably one of the worst things you can drink. Plain water is the best.

The fun stuff: Smoking is the third top leading cause of heart disease. There is absolutely no excuse to smoke. There are resources that can help you quit, not to mention the amount of money you would save by not smoking. (How to help someone quit smoking AND vaping… and why you should keep trying ) I have nothing more to say about this. Just stop smoking.  Alcohol is also a contributor to unhealthy hearts. Limiting alcohol to one drink a night is a good rule of thumb.

Hormone Replacement Therapy: Ah I saved the controversial one for last. Estrogen, the hormone that is not only responsible for timing of the menstrual cycle, helps protect the vessels that pump blood through the body reducing the risk of heart attack and stroke. After the menopause hits, the estrogen levels drop. This is also a major reason the number one killer for women is in fact, heart disease. It is a dramatic shift in what the body is used to. The decision to go on HRT is a complex one that is specific to each woman’s history, risk factors, and family history. It is important to discuss this with your physician to determine if HRT is the right decision for you.

There are some factors we cannot control in terms of heart disease. Family history, daily stress, menopause. However, making small changes throughout the day can really add up into making our overall health significantly better. Ok everyone put down your phones and do 10 jumping jacks 😉 Happy Hearts!

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