“Love takes off masks that we fear we cannot live without and know we cannot live within.” — James Baldwin

FEBRUARY IS AMERICAN HEART MONTH—CELEBRATE WITH THESE HEART-HEALTHY TIPS

As the month most closely associated with romantic love, heart-shaped candies, cards, and decorations are ubiquitous in February. But while snacking on some chocolate hearts, it’s important to remember a more vital observance that takes place in February: American Heart Month, which was established to raise awareness of heart disease and how to avoid it. The statistics on heart disease are grim: it is the leading cause of death for both men and women in the U.S., and one in four deaths are caused by heart disease each year. However, the good news is that heart disease can often be prevented through lifestyle choices. Here are a few tips for boosting the health of this important organ—during February and always: Reduce salt intake. High sodium consumption is linked to higher blood pressure. To add flavor to your foods, consider swapping out the salt for spices—particularly those with anti-inflammatory properties, like ginger, turmeric, garlic, and cinnamon. Get moving. Regular, moderate physical activity is essential for a healthy heart. Ideally, aim for at least 30 minutes of exercise— such as walking briskly, running, swimming, or cycling—five days per week. In addition, try to avoid sitting for long periods of time. If your job keeps you at a desk all day, consider investing in a sitstand desk or implementing walking meetings in your workplace. Track your stats. Having an idea of where you stand as far as heart health is the first step to making improvements. Start a log in which you record your blood pressure, cholesterol, body mass index, and even your dietary habits and physical activity. Set goals for yourself for improving these metrics, and monitor your progress as you work towards them. Manage stress. Stress is a normal, inevitable part of life—but when managed improperly, it can erode your health and happiness over time. From quiet meditation to hitting the gym to spending time in nature, there are numerous ways to temporarily disconnect from the hectic modern world and lower stress levels. Protect your heart health by finding a method that works for you and making it a regular part of your life. Avoid unhealthy fats. Not all fats are bad for your health—some may even be beneficial. Specifically, saturated fats, such as those found in red meat or full-fat dairy products, and trans fats, which often come from partially hydrogenated oils, may be harmful. On the other hand, unsaturated fats—particularly those composed of omega-3 fatty acids, which come from sources like salmon, tuna, walnuts, and flaxseed—actually improve heart health.

Sources: healthfinder.gov, heartfoundation.org, mayoclinic.org