February isn’t just about flowers and candy hearts, it also celebrates the heart itself. It’s Heart Disease Awareness month, and in acknowledgment of it, here’s some tips to keep your heart beating at its healthiest.

1. Cut back on fats. The human body requires fat, but do you really know the difference between good fats and bad fats? Good fats are polyunsaturated and monounsaturated, and can be found in such foods as avocados, almonds and salmon. Consider taking fish oil capsules if your diet is low in these (though make sure to consult your doctor first if you’re taking prescription medication). Bad fats are saturated and can be found in most meats, eggs and dairy products. Limit the amount of saturated fat in your daily diet and try to avoid foods containing trans fat, such as fast food and margarine, altogether.

2. Keep salt to a minimum. Too much salt can lead to high blood pressure, putting a strain on your heart. Check labels on pre-packaged food for sodium content, be mindful of how much salt you use in your cooking, and leave it off the table at dinnertime.

3. Watch your weight. Obesity is one of the most common causes of heart disease, as well as diabetes and stroke. Maintain a balanced diet high in fiber, fruits and vegetables and low in sugar and simple carbohydrates. Replace foods containing processed flours with those containing whole wheat and other complex grains.

4. Stop smoking. We shouldn’t have to tell you this, but quitting smoking right now will almost immediately reduce your risk of heart disease, as well as cancer and emphysema. Talk to your doctor about using a nicotine patch, or find a buddy who’s also trying to quit and can help get you through those tough cravings.

5. Get more exercise! Just a half hour of moderate exercise, which can include anything from a brisk walk around your neighborhood to cleaning your house, each day can lower your risk of heart disease.

6. Try to relax. This may be the hardest piece of advice to take. Our daily lives are full of stress, over our jobs, school, families, finances, or even what we read in the news. Stress takes a toll not only on mental health, but on the heart as well. Try to keep stress to a minimum. Maintain a hobby that makes you happy, spend time with your family, or try true relaxation techniques such as yoga, meditation or even just a warm bath. Also be sure to get enough rest: not just a good night’s sleep but some time to yourself to relax and recharge.

Following even just a couple of these tips as an overall lifestyle change can be beneficial to your health. Be good to your heart, and it’ll be good to you!

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