February is American Heart Month. Many times when we’re thinking about what to do that’s heart-friendly we think of things we can eat, such as whole grains or oats, or things we can do, like running. But what can a family do to make their whole home into a heart-friendly environment? Heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women, but heart disease is preventable and controllable – often with simple routine changes in our daily life.
More and more people throughout the United States are becoming more sedentary. Instead of walking to the mailbox to check our mail, we’re checking email on our smartphones. Instead of playing tag, our kids are chasing each other on Mario Kart.
Consider taking the family for a bike ride, a hike in the woods, ice-skating or sledding, swimming or horseback riding. Within your house, have heart-friendly toys: pogo sticks are a lot of fun, have a jump rope contest, climb trees or teach your kids your old neighborhood games like kick the can, neighborhood-wide hide and seek, or organize a scavenger hunt. A scavenger hunt can be done inside the house as well on snow-bound or wet days. Be creative, and your family will be moving around before you know it.
Out of Sight, Out of Mind
Some people simply do better to skip the cookies and chips aisle in the grocery store and keep them out of the house altogether. Consider what kinds of health-friendly foods you and your family enjoy and keep the kitchen stocked with those. Also, can you serve turkey burger in your spaghetti instead of hamburger? What about in the tacos? With lower fat, turkey is an excellent heart-healthy choice.
What about switching from butter and unhealthy oils to Omega-3-heavy olive oil? Omega-3 is good for the heart and helps to reduce inflammation. Think about what kinds of heart-friendly ingredients you can use — oats, whole grains, flax seed, lean meats and fish, lots of fruits and vegetables and especially leafy greens such as kale and spinach are great for the heart.
Do you like nuts? Nuts are another great source of healthy fat and vitamins that make a great snack. And consider old-fashioned popcorn – pour a tablespoon full of olive oil in a pan and add about a half cup of popcorn. Be sure to cover it with a lid, shake it occasionally, and you’ll have a heart-friendly snack the whole family can enjoy.
Think about your hobbies. Aside from straight-up exercise, even hobbies that don’t involve sitting on the couch and watching TV can make a big impact on your heart. Researchers call these activities NEPA – non-exercise physical activity. Working in the garden, pottering around in the workshop, mowing the lawn, blowing the leaves, picking strawberries or mushrooms all increase your level of activity.
People with higher activities decrease their risk of heart attack or stroke, compared with more sedentary people. So consider what kinds of activities you and your family can involve yourselves in, and enjoy. Standing, moving and using your muscles even a little bit increases metabolism and keeps the heart revved up for health.
There are a lot of little things you can do to make your home a heart-friendly one. Consider your activities, hobbies, exercise and eating habits and think what you can do to become a little more active and eat a little healthier. Remember, change begins with little steps forward. Once these changes become habits, you’re on your way to a healthy new life.