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February is a time when we show others, we love them and for me, of growing older. (My birthday!)

And that makes me think of hearts.

Our hearts make us tick. They beat blood to our cells and allows each cell to exchange its waste for life-giving oxygen. They bring blood and nutrients to our brain to help us think. They are vital to our lives.

Heart disease is the leading cause of death in people over 35 in the United States – more than 630,000 people die each year from a heart related condition.

And so much can be done to reduce your risk for heart disease. You are never too young or too old to start taking care of your heart. Simple stuff.

Here are the basics –

  1. Eat a healthy diet. The Mediterranean diet is a good model to follow.
  • Lots of fresh leafy green and rainbow colored vegetables – 5-9 servings a day. A serving is ½ cup. It’s actually not as hard as it seems. A big salad could be 2-3 servings of vegetables. Take a double helping of steamed broccoli. Stir fry some spinach orchard to go with your eggs in the morning; snack on some celery.
    • Eat small servings of lean meat or protein. I know everyone is into the paleo craze – but vegetables should be the mainstay of your diet and meat should not be the cornerstone. Servings as big as your palm is a good measurement (veggie servings as big as your face)
    • Eat fiber rich – whole grains if you’re eating them and again small serving sizes.
    • Avoid hydrogenated fats, high fructose corn syrups, processed or frozen premade foods – these tend to be high in ingredients that are not food and can damage your heart and body.
    • Eat healthy fats – raw nuts and seeds, cold pressed olive oil, coconut oil, avocados. Throw away the cheap oil. It is rancid. It will damage your arteries.
  1. Exercise – 15-30 minutes of dancing, walking, running up and down the stairs, yoga – will all help reduce blood sugars, improve circulation and reduce stress.
  2. Meditate, pray, play – take time to breathe and relax. Not TV, not computer games – quiet, breath, heart, space…relax. It’s important to get out of flight or fight mode and allow for rest and quietude.
  3. Do at least one good deed per week – no one else even needs to know about it. Scientifically it is shown that doing good for others improves our mental health, reduces isolation and stress and is very rewarding. You can volunteer or you can just sweep your neighbors walkway, or give a homeless person a bag of groceries or a blanket.

Finally, stop drinking so much alcohol. Quit smoking. Lose weight. These are things the docs tell you to do, and they are important. But actually, if you start doing the above list, you’ll probably find that you won’t need to drink as much, or it may be easier to cut down on smoking, and maybe you’ll get lucky and lose a few pounds.

Happy Valentine’s Day! I say – be your own Valentine!

By Jennifer Means, ND, LAc

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