Healthcare 101: 6 Small Health Changes with Big Health Payoffs

Big Health Payoffs

With Valentine's Day around the corner, you've probably got love on your mind (and your heart!). But did you know that February is also American Heart Month? Since we're already thinking about our hearts and the ones that we hold dear this time of year, it's also a great time to learn a few ways you can start to improve your heart health.

1. Banish "Bad" Fats

Not all fats are created equal. A good place to start improving heart health is in the kitchen, by reducing the consumption of trans fats. Trans fats are found in fried foods, as well in as many processed foods and commercially baked goods. A good rule of thumb is to avoid any food that has the words "partially hydrogenated" on the ingredients label—even if it says it's free of trans fats!

2. Get Moving

The American Heart Association urges everyone to aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise on most days—five is the ideal number! If you find it difficult to allocate a block of 30 minutes, you can do 10 minutes of aerobic exercise here, and 15 minutes there, with the goal of adding up to 30 minutes throughout the day. One idea is to try increasing the time you spend walking every day by parking further away from work, or taking a morning or evening walk around the neighborhood with your family or dog. Climbing stairs, swimming, and biking are other enjoyable ways that you can get moving.

3. Reduce Saturated Fats

This one is similar to our first tip, since fats play such a critical role in heart-related conditions. Be sure to limit your consumption of saturated fats to no more than 10 percent of your total caloric intake for the day. You'll find saturated fats in foods like red meat, tropical oils, and dairy. Mix up the proteins in your diet by opting for eggs, fish, skinless chicken and vegetarian sources. Try to keep dairy in moderation each day as well.

4. Get Musical

The right music can improve your mood and increase your happiness. Did you know that certain types of music can also reduce stress and lower your heart rate, as well as both your diastolic and systolic blood pressure? A study published in Heart found that music with a slow tempo has a calming effect on the body and heart. We won't judge if you save Smooth Jazz to your car radio presets!

5. Don't Drink or Smoke

A study led by a researcher at Indiana University's Bloomington School of Public Health followed about 70,000 women over the course of 20 years. It found that not smoking, and averaging less than one alcoholic drink daily helped reduce the women's risk of a heart attack by more than 90 percent! It also slashed their odds of developing a heart-related risk factor (like high blood pressure) by 66 percent. Now those are impressive stats.

6. Limit Television Viewing

The same study mentioned above also found that watching seven or fewer hours of television a week was good for the health of the participants' hearts. Less time in front of the screen can translate into increased activity and an interest in other beneficial hobbies—this goes for kids, too!

As the Indiana University study's leading researcher—Andrea Chomistek—noted, adopting just a few of the above heart-healthy behaviors can reduce your risk of heart disease compared to those who don't do anything. So what are you waiting for this February? After all, there's no better way to celebrate Heart Health Month than focusing on making yours stronger!