This month, join us for our first-ever healthy heart challenge. Dedicate each week to discovering a new way to love your heart, and build a healthy routine that lasts throughout the year.
Week 1: By February 11Goal: Make every meal Mediterranean
Studies have found that the Mediterranean diet can reduce the risk of heart disease and pave the way for a longer life. In 2019, it received gold honors as the best overall diet by U.S. News and World Report. And the concept is easy — eat lots of fruits, veggies, fish, whole grains and olive oil, with the occasional glass of red wine.
This week, try making every meal Mediterranean. Start the day with a focus on fruit, like this blueberry and strawberry breakfast parfait. For lunch, try a grain bowl, such as this zesty one with tahini and sweet potatoes. For dinner, go fish with this crispy skin salmon with roasted veggies. Throughout the day, snack on almonds or hummus-dipped carrots, or plan ahead by making afternoon treats like these no-bake energy balls. (Find more Mediterranean diet tips and recipes.)
Week 2: By February 18Goal: Do these 3 exercises daily
People who don’t exercise are almost twice as likely to get heart disease as people who are active. Exercise helps you burn calories, lower your blood pressure, reduce your LDL (bad) cholesterol and boost your HDL (good) cholesterol.
Your heart is a muscle, so anything that gets your heart rate up can help strengthen it. This week, try these three exercises daily, demonstrated by Sharp Rees-Stealy physical therapist Cathleen Uzunoglu. They are designed to be simple enough that you can do them anywhere, while challenging enough to give your heart a boost.
Week 3: By February 25Goal: Break a bad habit
It’s easy to be good to your heart. But unfortunately, it can be easy to pick up bad habits too. This week, break an unhealthy habit by:
- Turning off the TV: According to research published by the American Heart Association, extensive amounts of screen time are directly related to inactivity and obesity, which is associated with high cholesterol and high blood pressure. Instead of binge-watching, cook a healthy meal, take a walk or connect with friends and loved ones.
- Ditching the cigarettes: Did you know that your blood pressure and heart rate drop within 20 minutes of quitting smoking? And after one year of quitting, your risk of coronary heart disease drops by half? If you’re a smoker, take this week to skip the cigarettes and make a plan to quit. If you’re not a smoker, here are some tips on helping a friend kick the habit.
- Going alcohol free: Consumed in excess, alcohol can have catastrophic effects on the body. For the heart, it can raise blood pressure levels and up the risk for heart disease. It can also raise cholesterol levels, which can harden your arteries. In general, women should have no more than one drink a day, and men no more than two drinks a day. But this week, try going completely dry — and make a plan to keep your drinking to a minimum.
Week 4: By March 4Goal: Do a mindful meditation each night
Stress is bad for your emotional health, but it can negatively impact you physically, too. In terms of your heart, stress can cause a change in heart rate, rise in blood pressure and increase your risk of heart attack and disease. While there are many ways to reduce stress in your life — from exercise to taking up a craft — mindful meditation is a great way to get grounded and let your worries go.
This week, try a different mindful meditation each night — like one or all of these three from Robert McClure, a certified mindfulness facilitator at Sharp. The simple act of breathing, and being acutely aware of your body and all it does for you, can make a big difference in combating daily stress.
Follow along with @sharphealthcare on social media for your weekly healthy heart challenge reminder, and use #healthyheartchallenge to share your progress.