Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States. It’s a serious health concern for millions of Americans — so much so that I can’t even remember a time when it wasn’t at the top of the list for causes of death in this country. It’s an issue that interests me a great deal, particularly as those suffering from diabetes are at a great risk of developing cardiovascular issues.
Millions nationwide suffer from it but I don’t want to focus solely on the startling statistics. With February being American Heart Month, I want to bring awareness to this disease while also inspiring hope for lowering your risk and making impactful lifestyle changes that could potentially reverse your ailments altogether.
The first step in knowing how to lessen your risk of developing heart disease is understanding what causes it. While there are a few different types of heart disease, it can be attributed to a plaque build up in the arteries and valves and leading to your heart. This blockage prevents your blood from flowing through as it’s supposed to, and increases the risk for blood clots and heart attacks.
But the root cause of heart disease is more than how it works within your body — it’s why it happened in the first place. There are a number of risk factors that increase your chances of developing heart disease, some of which are preventable, including family history of the disease, obesity, inactive lifestyle, smoking, diabetes, unhealthy diets, and so on.
Heart disease doesn’t have to be a death sentence. I was pretty much at death’s door when I made the decision to fight for my life and reverse my diabetes and obesity. Had I continued along the path I was on, it wouldn’t have surprised me in the slightest if I had developed heart disease too. But I made the choice to honor myself by fighting for my health and transforming my life, and I want you to know that you can too.
Visit your doctor
As with my journey, one of the first things to do is get a clear picture of your health. Visit your doctor and get some tests done to measure your cholesterol, blood sugar levels, blood pressure, and so on. From these, your doctor will be able to help you understand where you are in your health, and that will help in building your plan of action moving forward. Regardless of whether you’re at risk or already developed heart disease, don’t lose hope. It’s never too late to transform your life.
Change starts in the kitchen
You know I’m an advocate for a whole food, plant-based lifestyle. It’s done wonders for my health and has given me a renewed chance at life — and it’s been linked to numerous science-based health benefits.
I encourage you to make a big impact on your health by clearing out your kitchen. Go through your pantry and toss out the unhealthy foods that have contributed to where you are now. That means the processed foods and oils, the sugary desserts, and salty snacks. Make a trip to your local market and stock up a variety of vegetables, fruits, complex carbs and other natural foods.
Don’t worry about figuring this out alone. There are plenty of resources available to guide you in making plant-based meals, including this delicious library of recipes from Chef Katie Mae as well as this easily customizable meal-planning tool that will take the guesswork out of your weekly meals.
Get up and get active
Starting in the kitchen will make a world of difference, but it doesn’t end there. Having an active lifestyle is essential for giving your heart the exercise it needs to stay healthy and help lower your risk of heart disease.
This doesn’t mean you need to start running marathons, but do try and incorporate movement however best you can. This could be a daily morning walk before you get started with your day, making time for stretch breaks at work, taking a class at your local gym, going for a swim, and so on. Do whatever level of activity you can without putting strain on your body, and overtime you’ll build up to being able to do more and more.
Reduce unnecessary stress
Let’s not forget stress. Stress plays a huge part in our body’s ability to nurture itself and ward off illness. If you’re putting strain on your heart through stressful environments, I encourage you to find ways to counter it.
If work is placing a toll on you, set alarms on your phone to periodically remind yourself to take breaks where you step away from work and focus on your breathing. You might also want to consider practices like yoga, getting more sleep, listening to soothing music, self-care days, and spending more time with loved ones.
In celebration of American Heart Month, and in honor of yourself, I want you to make a commitment to incorporate one of the steps above. Will you start exercising? Eliminate some unhealthy foods from your diet? Practice deep breathing?
Every change you make, no matter how small, contributes to a better tomorrow. Remember the goal isn’t to be perfect, but to better than you were yesterday.
Share what changes you’ll be making for American Heart Month in the comments below!