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By: Alison Jacobson
Posted on: Feb 6, 2020

American Heart Month: 4 Steps Towards A Healthy Heart At Any Age

Our guest blogger Alison Jacobson, The Safety Mom, is back again this week to talk about American Heart Month. Read on for Alison's tip towards a healthy heart at any age.

Why Diet and Exercise Means Something Different to Me Now

Four years ago, I went to see a cardiologist because my cholesterol was really high. My GP hadn’t suggested I go, she really didn’t offer much advice, which in retrospect, amazes me. It was a friend who insisted that I see her cardiologist.

The doctor took one look at my chart and said, “You’re going to die of heart disease.” Not exactly great bedside manner but I appreciated the honesty. Of course, he could be completely wrong – I could die in a car crash or skydiving. OK, not skydiving since I’ll never do that, but you get what I mean.

What’s important to know is that I exercise regularly, eat healthy and my Body Mass Index is in the normal range. Meaning, you wouldn’t look at me and think I’m a walking time bomb for a heart attack or stroke. Unfortunately, I just got the short end of the stick genetically when it comes to high cholesterol.

The good news is that the medication the doctor put me on has made my levels drop by over 100 points with no side effects. But it made me stop and reconsider the reasons I’ve eaten healthy and exercised regularly over the years. It wasn’t as much for my health as my vanity. Sure, I consciously understood that it was healthy for me, but the reality was that in my younger years it was to look good in a bikini or get back into my skinny jeans after I had my kids or have arms like Michelle Obama. Not that there’s anything wrong with this but it suddenly dawned on me that exercising and eating right was more about keeping my body strong and staying alive!

I’ve watched with sadness as my mom’s posture has gotten worse, she shuffles and seems to have more aches and pains. I compare this to some incredible Instagram posts of women in their 70’s and even 80’s who are running marathons, doing yoga and kicking butt. That’s who I want to be!

That requires a healthy heart.

February is American Heart Month but heart health shouldn’t be considered only at this time. Heart disease is the number 1 killer of women, claiming the life of 1 of 3 women. Heart disease—and the conditions that lead to it—can happen at any age. You can’t fix what you don’t know so it’s important at any age to know your numbers – blood pressure and cholesterol.

Here are a few things you can do to improve your heart health at any age:

Plan ahead for meals – Whether it’s transporting kids back and forth from sports activities or travelling for business it’s hard to eat healthy on the run. There are, however, some heart healthy on-the-go snacks that you might not have considered like popcorn and apples. Also, if you have some dinners already made that can be popped into the microwave or in the crockpot you’ll be less likely to grab that pizza on the way home.

Get a good night’s sleep – I had no idea that sleep was associated with heart health, but numerous studies have shown that 7 – 8 hours of sleep per night is optimal. In fact, one study of 3,000 people over the age of 45 found that those who slept fewer than six hours per night were about twice as likely to have a stroke or heart attack as people who slept six to eight hours per night.

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Get out of your chair - People who have desk jobs (or bloggers like me) tend to spend a lot of time sitting down. This can seriously impact your heart health no matter how much exercise you do before or after work. Researchers have found that people who sit the most have 147 percent increase in cardiovascular events and a 90 percent increase in death caused by these events. Take breaks throughout the day to stretch, go outside for a few minutes or, if you work from home, take a walk around the block.

Zen out – We live in a stressed-out society and learning to manage stress is critical to heart health. Long term stress is connected to elevated blood pressure, abnormal heart rhythms, heart attacks, and strokes. Finding healthy ways to manage stress is important. Rather than reaching for the second (or more) cocktail or polishing off a gallon of ice cream try some deep breathing and meditation. Many people tell me they can’t meditate but it just takes practice and the health benefits are tremendous. Here are some great guided meditations to get your started.

It’s so easy as women to put our own health needs behind everyone in our family but the risks of not caring for ourselves are too great.