This month our heath focus is stress and how our heart health is related to stress.
Director, Health & wellness
None of us have been strangers to stress during this pandemic. As a working mother with a toddler and a newborn at home with no access to daycare and school, I’ve definitely felt my blood pressure rise a few times. As director of health and wellness for ACEC Life/Health Trust, I’m reminded of just how important blood pressure and heart health are – especially since heart disease is also a significant risk factor for people suffering from severe COVID-19 cases.
Luckily, treating your ticker well doesn’t have to be hard. This February, for American Heart Month, learn how a few small steps can greatly improve your cardiovascular health.
- Spend more time in bed. Specifically, sleeping. At least seven hours a night. Sleep is crucial for your body to repair itself. Your blood pressure decreases, giving your heart a rest. Studies suggest that even small changes in your sleep schedule can have a dramatic effect on your heart health. For instance: Each year when daylight saving time hits and we lose an hour of sleep, heart attacks increase 24% that following Monday. Conversely, when we regain that hour of sleep in the fall, heart attacks decrease about 21% the following Tuesday.
- Eat more vegetables. No need for an extreme diet that deprives you forever of your favorite foods. Most dietitians advocate for balance instead. Work on a plant focus: try to add another one or two veggies per day; snack on carrot sticks; sneak squash into your pasta; add a few handfuls of spinach to your protein shake; etc. To learn about a comprehensive (yet not restrictive) heart-healthy eating pattern, check out the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet – consistently ranked among the healthiest diets.
- Floss. A survey of over 9,000 adults showed 69% of Americans don’t floss every day, with nearly half of those never flossing at all. Yet flossing is one of the best ways to prevent gum disease – and studies indicate a link with heart disease as well. Bacteria from your gums can create inflammation, which is a major factor in blood pressure and heart disease. A few minutes of flossing a day can go a long way toward overall wellness.
- Take a (brisk) walk. Even a 30-minute walk every day can make a huge difference. One study showed walking could decrease your chances of heart disease by 9.3%. The numbers are even better if you switch to a bike to get your heart rate up. And if you want the ideal exercise for heart health, combine cardio with some kind of strength training (such as weights or resistance bands) 3-4 days a week.
- Prioritize chilling out. It’s not self-indulgent or a waste of time to include some fun and relaxation in your life, especially since studies associate chronic stress with a higher risk of cardiovascular disease. So take time to escape from your hectic schedule. Choose a relaxing pastime, like fishing; watch some stand-up comedy; try one of those meditation apps; or get a massage.
- Use virtual care. It all starts with preventive care, and that means regular doctor visits. Designed Virtual Care lets you get a checkup without leaving your house. You can also talk through and deal with symptoms you might mistake for cardiovascular problems, such as heart burn. Of course, in an emergency, you should call 911 or go to the emergency room.
Healthy doesn't have to be hard. And hey, if you’re looking for a competitive and adventurous way to knock out numbers 4 and 5, join our March wellness challenge, the Great American Adventure!
Lindsay Simone is a certified health education specialist who has been helping engineers achieve outstanding health outcomes since 2012. As director of health and wellness at ACEC Life/Health Trust, she helps members take full advantage of our built-in wellness programs. Lindsay holds a Master of Arts in wellness management and business from Ball State University and a Bachelor of Science in community health and chemistry from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. She is also certified as a worksite wellness program manager.