When we talk about self-care we cover a huge range of dimensions that fall under a few broad categories — physical, emotional and spiritual.
This holistic health approach embraces every part of our body and works to make sure no part of your complex bodily system is going to hold you back.
But when we’re discussing physical health, we’re essentially talking about heart health. The heart is what makes it possible for us to pursue other areas of wellness.
Every beat of our hearts sends blood, nutrients and oxygen throughout our circulatory system, takes waste products back to the intestines and kidneys to be filtered and eliminated and is intimately connected to our brain health, immune system and every other important task our bodies need to carry out.
If your heart isn’t working well, odds are nothing else really is. Heart disease usually takes root when plaque, which is formed from cholesterol, fat and other substances, builds up in our arteries, restricting blood flow and the body’s ability to function on multiple levels. It leads to catastrophic events including heart attack and stroke.
Heart health sets the foundation for our overall health and something we should work every day to maintain, no matter how old or young. There are several broadly accepted actions we can all incorporate into our lifestyle to keep our hearts pumping strong and reduce our risk for heart disease:
Consume mostly vegetables, fruits and whole grains along with lean sources of protein, which can be from plants and animals. Limit red meat and other fatty proteins, refined grains and starches, sugar, salt and alcohol use. This will ensure you get the nutrients your heart and the rest of your body need to function at top capacity.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other health agencies recommend you get at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise per week, generally defined as a workout that makes you sweat and have some difficulty carrying on a conversation. At least two sessions of strength training per week are urged. This will help your heart work efficiently and help prevent plaque buildup.
Getting seven to eight hours of sleep every night creates many positive health outcomes for your body, including your heart. High-quality sleep allows your heart rate to slow down, suppresses appetite-stimulating hormones and reduces calcium buildup in arteries, among other benefits.
Being overweight or obese is associated with an increased risk of high blood pressure and high cholesterol, both of which are linked to heart disease. Extra weight also makes your heart work harder to circulate blood through more vessels in a larger body. There are several tools you can use to estimate how much you should weigh, including body-mass index, waist circumference, waist-to-hip ratio and body adiposity index.
Know Your Numbers
Regardless of whether you have personal risk factors or a family history of heart issues, you should regularly have your weight, blood pressure, cholesterol levels, triglycerides, A1C (for diabetes risk) and other cardiovascular health indicators checked. They won’t tell you the whole story, but they’ll give you some good indicators of where your heart is and where you may have room for improvement.