Without paying any attention to it at all, your heart beats 100,000 times each day. Over a 70-year lifespan that adds up to 2.5 billion beats! Heart disease is the leading cause of death in both men and women in the United States, so it’s important to think of heart health all year round. February is Heart Health Awareness Month and Valentine’s Day (of course), so this month is the time to give your heart some extra love.
What everyone should know: At the root of heart disease is inflammation. So, the key to heart health is living an anti-inflammation lifestyle. Below you’ll find 5 specific—and fun—steps to reduce inflammation and prevent heart disease:
- Be Quiet! Or at least filter out some of the noise you experience during your day. Noise pollution has been linked to annoyance, stress, insomnia, impaired cognitive focus, a surge in stress hormones—and it’s bad for your heart, according to a new review in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology. Loud noises from car traffic and airplanes are linked to high blood pressure, artery disease, stroke, and heart failure. However, the researchers also note that being exposed to co-workers talking all day can also stress your cardiovascular system. The lesson here is to make sure that you have some quiet time each day. Shut off all the screens—laptops, smartphones, televisions—meditate, stretch, journal, or just rest in silence.
- Eat an anti-inflammatory diet. To reduce inflammation, focus on eliminating refined sugars and flours, lowering your gluten and dairy, and maximizing a plant-based diet. Eating an anti-inflammatory diet will reduce all over inflammation which reduces heart health risks, and also reduces joint pain from arthritis and digestive problems. They are full of antioxidants that help reduce inflammation in the body, and in your heart. Aim to eat a wide variety of plants in many colors each day.
- Move all day long. It’s important to get plenty of regular exercise, but it’s also essential to move your body all throughout your day. What I’m talking about here are all the other minutes of your 24-hour day after your 45-minute walk, run, spin class, or kickboxing. Blue zones are communities that researchers are studying because the people who live in these areas live well into their 90s and beyond, and they have superior health, including healthier hearts. These people don’t necessarily go to a gym, but they are far more active throughout the day than most Americans. They get down on the floor and get up without any help multiple times each day, they walk to the grocery store, take the stairs, take family walks, do tai chi or yoga daily. All this moving, keeps your blood pumping, your cholesterol healthy and balanced Also important: Frequent physical motion reduces chronic stress, and keeps your arteries and blood vessels, and your heart flexible and healthy.
- Make love. According to a study published in the American Journal of Cardiology, men who have sex twice a week are less likely to develop heart disease than those who only see action once a month or less. It may be that bedroom action contributes to your daily physical activity, or that you are in a solid, emotionally balanced relationship—both improve the health of your heart. The researchers only tracked men but speculate that the results would hold for women as well. This is great news, and there are plenty of easy and all-natural ways to light up your libido.
- Eat dark chocolate—moderately! I wouldn’t leave this one out—no way. But I will say that you need to limit your portions. Dark chocolate (70% or higher cocoa) does contain flavonals which help to form nitric acid in the body and nitric acid helps your blood vessel walls to relax and open—keeping your heart pumping effectively. Have a 2-inch square or two as a treat at the end of the day.
 Hall S.A., et al., “Sexual Activity, Erectile Dysfunction, and Incident Cardiovascular Events.” American Journal of Cardiology, 15 January 2010, Vol. 105, Issue 2, Pages 192-197. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.amjcard.2009.08.671