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Let’s have a heart to heart

Love your heart this February during heart health month

Did you know that laughing is good for your heart? It reduces stress and boosts your immune system. Who knew that something as simple as watching a good comedy, a funny chat with a friend, or watching penguin videos on YouTube could make such an impact?

According to the 2019 National College Health Assessment data from Illinois State University students, stress and anxiety were the top two factors impacting academic performance. It is important for everyone to be able to manage stressors for the sake of your professional and personal life but also for your heart! Incorporating a calming activity into your daily life is one way to reduce stress. Activities such as yoga, meditation, reading, journaling, or going on a walk and putting your phone away for an hour are all great ways to provide some you time and doing so can put your priorities into perspective. A study done at Cardiff University in Wales discovered that undergraduate students who pursued a hobby reported a better work-life balance and less stress (Jenkins, Johnson, Ginley, 2019).

Improve your ability to focus

As full-time students, staff, or faculty members, you may feel overwhelmed with everything on your plate. Despite your busy schedules, aim for seven to nine hours of sleep each night which benefits overall productivity and supports heart health, your number one support system. Implementing mindfulness meditation can vastly decrease stress levels and support better sleep. Focusing on the now keeps us where we have the most influence.

Get moving!

We have all heard that exercise is the gold standard for improved heart health. Any form of physical activity, 150 minutes in total throughout the week, is what we should aim to accomplish. Movement can include climbing the stairs instead of using the elevator, walking to class or a meeting, going for a bike ride, alternating standing with sitting while at work, and dancing. Our goal is to move, so do what YOU enjoy.

Remember to eat throughout the day

Have you looked at your day and realized all you’ve had to eat was coffee and a bagel at 10:00 a.m. and maybe a burrito eight hours later? We’ve all been there. We can take better care of our hearts by being conscious of the foods we eat throughout the day. Research suggests implementing small changes over time to achieve a more balanced diet. First, fill half your plate with colorful fruits and vegetables at each meal, and try to eat less saturated fat (i.e., butter, processed foods, or fried foods), sodium, and sugar in your meals. Cooking more meals at home can reduce stress, save money, and contribute to eating healthier. Find some delicious recipes and turn on a podcast while enjoying a little YOU time while preparing nutritious foods.

Healthcare screenings are key

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the leading cause of death in the U.S. (nearly half a million people annually) is heart disease. Unfortunately, individuals only worry about their heart health after they experience problems. Make an appointment at least once per year with your healthcare provider and stay in the prevention zone. Will they ask you if you are using tobacco products? You bet. So, ditch the smokeless tobacco, or any type of cigarette including electronic because they all contain highly addictive nicotine and other harmful chemicals. Your medical provider wants what is best for you, and you can become their partner.

Preventive steps are the best way to protect your heart and improve overall well-being. Pick one or two areas and slowly implement them for lasting shifts in lifestyle. Your heart will thank you.

Resources from Health Promotion and Wellness

Quit smoking/tobacco use or vaping

Free nutrition consultations

How to manage stress

Sources:

American Heart Association

Go Red for Women Movement