Have a Hearty, Healthy Heart

I once had a father-in-law who always gave up smoking for Lent. What’s a little weird is that back then (it was the 60s) none of us thought it odd that he picked up his cigarettes again on Easter Sunday. He died of a heart attack when he was 63.

Today is Ash Wednesday. I know there’s no correlation, but what a good day to get off your ash and stop smoking, as the professionals at Healthline.com say, “no ifs, ands or butts!”

“Smoking is one of the top controllable risk factors for heart disease. It can make a huge difference to not just your heart, but your overall health, too,” they say.

With a healthy heart in mind, take a look at these dozen or so recommendations from Healthline. I’m sure you can fit most of them into your daily life.

Focus on the middle. Excess belly fat is linked to higher blood pressure and unhealthy blood lipid levels. They say that if you’re carrying your weight around the middle, it’s time to slim down.

Have sex. “Having sex can be good for your heart,” they say. “Sexual activity may help lower your blood pressure and risk of heart disease,” according to research published in the American Journal of Cardiology.

Engage in hobbies. “Put your hands to work to help your mind unwind. Engaging in activities such as knitting, sewing, and crocheting can help relieve stress and do your ticker some good. Other relaxing hobbies, such as woodworking, cooking or completing jigsaw puzzles, may also help take the edge off stressful days.”

Eat Fiber. Eat Fish. Mix black beans into salsa and eat with low-fat chips for a terrific heart happy snack. Then try to eat fish a couple of times a week. A diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids can ward off heart disease. Besides beans, rich sources of soluble fiber include oats, barley, apples, pears and avocados. High in omega-3 is salmon, tuna, sardines and herring.

Move to the music. Dancing makes a great heart-healthy workout. “Like other forms of aerobic exercise, it raises your heart rate and gets your lungs pumping. It also burns up to 200 calories or more per hour,” the Mayo Clinic says.

Laugh out loud. Healthline says that laughter is good for your heart. “According to the AHA, research suggests laughing can lower stress hormones, decrease inflammation in your arteries and raise your levels of good cholesterol.”

Stretch it out. By improving your balance, flexibility and strength, as in taking a yoga class, you can reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease.

Drink alcohol in moderation. “Moderate consumption of alcohol can help raise your levels of HDL or good cholesterol,” Healthline says. “It can also help prevent blood clot formation and artery damage.

Avoid salt. Researchers reported in the New England Journal of Medicine that “if the entire U.S. population reduced its average salt intake to just a half a teaspoon a day, it would significantly cut the number of people who develop coronary heart disease every year.”

Move. “No matter how much you weigh, sitting for long periods of time could shorten your lifespan,” Healthline says. Get up. Park a ways away from your destination. Take the stairs. Vacuum and mop the house. Go bowling. Take a walk around the block. Lift weights.

Know your numbers. You know: blood pressure, blood sugar, cholesterol and triglycerides. “Learn the optimal levels for your sex and age group. Take steps to reach and maintain those levels,” Healthline advises.

Eat chocolate. “Dark chocolate not only tastes delicious, it also contains heart-healthy flavonoids.” Well, let’s go back to moderation for a minute. Healthline says that there’s no guilt required if you eat a “square or two of dark chocolate” each day.

Now we’re running out of room before we finish the great advice. They go on to say to eat tree nuts for fiber and to be sure to eat a healthy breakfast. Cut the fat and increase consumption of black or green tea.

Brush your teeth regularly. Research suggests that the bacteria that cause gum disease can also raise your risk of heart disease.

Find your happy place. Healthline says to maintain a positive outlook on life to decrease stress, anxiety and anger. I think that’s great advice. You?

Kathy Hubbard is a member of Bonner General Health Foundation Advisory Council. She can be reached at kathyleehubbard@yahoo.com.