It’s February – tis the season for Valentine’s and focusing on the heart! As you seek to show love to that special someone or special people in your life, don’t forget to show love to your heart. Heart disease remains the #1 cause of death for men and for women, responsible for about 30% of deaths each year. And while some of it isn’t preventable, the CDC reports that at least 200,000 deaths from heart disease annually could be prevented.

Take this February to examine what steps you can take (or may already be taking) to show your heart some love:

1.     Engage in at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity exercise each week.

Cardiovascular work requires the work of the heart. It is a muscle. Exercise to work that muscle. Moderate intensity exercise can be a brisk walk, playing some doubles tennis, and dancing.

2.     Eat fatty fish 2 times a week.

The American Heart Association recommends 3.5 oz servings for each fatty fish meal. Options include salmon, trout, tuna, sardines (anchovies on your pizza anyone?), and mackerel.

3.     Limit your processed foods and eating out.

A diet high in processed foods and restaurant meals leads to a diet high in sodium. It doesn’t mean you can’t ever have fun foods, simply don’t base your diet on them. If Hot Cheetos has become your go-to snack, time to establish some new options to get into the mix and reduce your sodium intake.

4.     Include nuts often!

They have healthy fats, the antioxidant power of vitamin E, good fiber content, and magnesium for promoting healthy blood pressure. Each nut has unique nutritional properties. You can visit the Almond Board of California, the California Walnut Board, Wonderful® Pistachios or other nut boards for more information and delicious recipes.

5.     Make sure you have an effective stress management plan in place.

Everyone has stress and it can serve healthier purposes in our lives. However excessive stress without effective management can contribute to high blood pressure and overeating behaviors. You can exercise, tune out from the world with music, practice meditation or prayer, engage in deep breathing, get a massage or pedicure, or spend some time outside. Establish your unique approach to what brings calm into your day…..there are so many ways to manage your stress!

6.     Eat the colors of the rainbow.

The different pigments in fruits and vegetables mean they contain different compounds that have beneficial effects on the body. Diets that are high in fruits and vegetables are repeatedly associated with lower risk of heart disease. Start every meal with a fruit or vegetable and you’re on your way to making this a stable part of your dietary plan.

7.     Sleep. Sleep. Prioritize your sleep.

If you have disrupted sleep patterns, visit your health practitioner to discuss options. Set an alarm to GO to bed, not just to wake up in the morning, if you need a trigger for heading to the bedroom. Dim your screen or block use of your apps to remove stimulation from your phone. Make sure you’re eating enough to promote good sleep, too!

If you recognize you need change in many of these areas, don’t get overwhelmed. Start with one and keep it simple. For example, swap your usual snack with a handful of nuts each day. Engage in 10 minutes of stretching during a work break. Create a time limit on social media. Or add tuna sandwiches to your weekly lunch or dinner routine. You and your heart are worth the effort!