February is American Heart Month, and It is never too late to start living a heart-healthy lifestyle. Just a few practical steps can make it easier.

Increase your physical activity to twenty-two minutes a day.

Physical activity contributes to improved blood pressure, improved levels of cholesterol and other blood lipids, and weight control. A mere 20-25 minutes a day – the length of a short walk- can make a difference. Start with small increments of physical activity, increasing normal daily activities like parking a few spaces further away in the parking lot.  Make it a personal challenge and gradually increase the duration, frequency, or intensity of the activity. 

Eat heart-healthy.

A heart-healthy food plan includes combinations of different foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, and nuts. Limit salty meats like ham, bacon, sausage, or hotdogs, as well as salty, dried foods. Avoid eating processed, canned, and fast food. Replace snacks like doughnuts, cookies, and sweetened packaged goods with fresh fruit and your favorite vegetables. When thirsty, substitute sweetened beverages like sodas and juices with flavored or plain water. 

Check your blood pressure regularly.

One of the most important ways to maintain a healthy heart is to have your blood pressure checked regularly. Many people do not exhibit symptoms, although they already have high blood pressure, which can hurt your heart. 

Limit or avoid the use of tobacco and alcohol.

Tobacco use and exposure to second-hand smoke harm your heart. Quitting tobacco use can be the biggest gift of health you can give your heart, and it has immediate and long-term health benefits, including living up to 10 years longer. After a year of not using tobacco, the risk of heart disease falls to about half that of a smoker. After 15 years of non-use, the risk of heart disease becomes the same as that of a non-smoker. 

Excess alcohol consumption has been linked to more than 200 disease and injury conditions, including cardiovascular diseases. While most report their alcohol drinking as only occasionally, binge drinking is common.  Since there seems to be no safe level for drinking, it might be better to avoid drinking alcohol altogether to protect your heart.

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