Prioritizing Heart Health this American Heart Month

Published - Feb 21, 2024

Clinically reviewed by Daniel Wiltfong, LAT, ATC

There’s no shortage of heart imagery during the month of February; between nonstop advertisements, seasonal merchandise displays and special episodes of our favorite TV shows, it’s obvious when Valentine’s Day is around the corner. The most important thing any one person can do for their own heart during this holiday is to keep it healthy! American Heart Month also takes place in February, making the month a perfect time to illustrate both the importance of cardiovascular health and preventative steps you can take to lower your risk for heart disease. Here are tips for how you can love your own heart this February.

Balanced Diet:

Your lifestyle choices, including diet, can have a direct effect on your risk for heart disease! Dietary choices can influence many of the other risk factors, such as cholesterol levels, obesity and alcohol use. Fuel your body with nutrient-rich foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins and healthy fats. Limit your intake of processed foods, sugary drinks, and foods high in saturated and trans fats. Embrace heart-healthy choices like salmon, avocados, nuts and olive oil.

Regular Exercise:

Physical inactivity is also another risk factor for heart disease. When done regularly, exercise can strengthen the heart muscle, improving the heart’s ability to pump blood to the rest of your body. Aiming for about 150 minutes total of aerobic moderate-intensity exercise or strength training is a good weekly goal to have. Examples of aerobic exercises include brisk walking, cycling and swimming.

Manage Stress:

Chronic stress can take a toll on your heart health by increasing your risk for heart attack and stroke. Stress may contribute to other unhealthy lifestyle choices, such as overeating, smoking and alcohol use. Practice stress-reduction techniques such as deep breathing, meditation, yoga, or spending time in nature.

Get Quality Sleep:

According to the American Heart Association, most people need six to eight hours of sleep each day – too little or too much can increase the risk of cardiovascular problems. Poor sleep also affects the heart indirectly by influencing choices about diet and exercise. Good sleep habits include establishing a relaxing bedtime routine, creating a comfortable sleep environment, and limiting screen time before bed to promote better sleep hygiene.

Quit Smoking:

Smoking is a major risk factor for heart disease and other health problems. The chemicals you inhale can cause damage to both your heart and blood vessels and cause one out of every four deaths from cardiovascular disease.[1] Smoking is one of the least healthy lifestyle choices one can make, and many programs exist to help you kick the habit!

Monitor Blood Pressure and Cholesterol:

Cholesterol is a waxy substance found in your blood. Your body needs cholesterol to build healthy cells, but high levels of cholesterol can increase your risk of heart disease. High blood pressure can damage your arteries by making them less elastic, which decreases the flow of blood and oxygen to your heart and leads to heart disease. It’s important to monitor both with regular screenings and work with your healthcare provider to develop a plan for managing them through lifestyle changes or medication, if necessary.

Maintain a Healthy Weight:

It’s been long documented that excess weight can lead to high blood pressure or diabetes and high cholesterol. Making healthier dietary choices and developing a regular exercise routine are two ways to combat unhealthy weight. You can work with your primary care provider or physical therapist to discuss sustainable goals to get you moving on a regular basis.

Limit Alcohol Intake:

Excessive alcohol consumption can raise blood pressure and contribute to heart disease. If you choose to drink, do so in moderation. For most adults, this means up to one drink per day for women and up to two drinks per day for men.

A healthy heart is within your grasp by adopting lifestyle changes that lower the risk of known factors. Not only will you reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease, but embracing these heart-conscious habits will help you to live a longer, healthier life. Many of the traditional risk factors outlined above are directly tied to a lack of exercise. IRG Physical & Hand Therapy can work with individuals of any ability in developing a personalized movement plan to help reduce the risk of heart disease. Make an appointment here to begin the journey to a heart-healthy future.


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[1] U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The Health Consequences of Smoking—50 Years of Progress: A Report of the Surgeon General. Atlanta: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, Office on Smoking and Health, 2014 [accessed 2024 22].