February is heart month – appropriate, we think, since it’s the month of Valentine’s Day! We’re not talking about cupid bows or cartoon hearts, though – we’re talking about that 12-ounce muscle in your chest that’s responsible for your every waking breath.
Heart health is one of the single most important aspects of maintaining a healthy lifestyle. In 2008, 616,000 people in the US alone, died of heart disease – representing nearly 25% of all deaths.
Of these deaths, coronary heart disease was the most common cause of death, representing about 66% of all cases in 2008. Coronary heart disease alone was estimated to cost the US, $108.9 billion dollars in 2010, including loss of productivity, treatment, and medications.
Clearly, your ticker is important. But taking care of it can be hard – especially for a stressed-out nurse on the go. So to help you stay healthy, happy, and heart-disease-free, we’ve put together 7 easy ways you can keep your heart healthy.
- Get Your Walkin’ Boots On!
Exercise is one of the single best ways to prevent heart disease. By keeping your heart active, you keep it healthy – your heart is a muscle after all, and muscles get stronger when you use them.
It can be tough for most of us nurses to find time to exercise – although walking the floor is a workout in and of itself – but it’s worth making the time.
If you’re out of shape or just don’t want to overexert yourself, start by walking. As little as 30 minutes of brisk walking a day can mean a massive decrease in your risk for heart disease.
- Sleep More. Seriously.
All you night-shift workers are probably rolling your eyes, but restful sleep is crucial to a healthy mind, body, and heart. Sleep deprivation has a serious effect on your risk for heart disease – of 3,000 adults surveyed, those who slept less than 6 hours a night were twice as likely to develop heart disease or suffer a stroke as compared to those who slept 6-8 hours a night.
- Eat Less Red Meat
Drop the burger and pick up a chicken breast or a pork loin. Red meat has been shown to increase risk factors for heart disease. Large amounts of red meat trigger gut microbe reactions caused by the presence of carnitine, and these gut microbes can contribute to heart disease.
You don’t have to totally cut red meat out of your diet, but consider reducing the portions you eat per week, replacing them with another kind of meat like fish, chicken, or even pork.
- Drink Less Alcohol
Nurses have seen first-hand, how alcohol abuse affects health. Liver failure, ruined kidneys, increased risks of stroke and coronary heart disease – these are all part of the deal if you’re an alcoholic.
Women should try to limit their consumption of alcohol to eight drinks a week – men, to 15. Not drinking at all is better for the heart – but a glass of wine or two won’t have a drastic effect. So limit your alcohol consumption, and you’ll reduce your risk of heart disease.
- See A Doctor!
A surprising amount of nurses don’t have regular checkups – and that can be a problem. Heart disease doesn’t just come out of nowhere. If you’re at risk of pre-heart disease, it can be quite easily diagnosed by a medical professional.
Knowledge is power. If you see a doctor and get checked out for heart disease, you can know what your risk levels are, and if you need to change aspects of your lifestyle to reduce your risk of developing heart disease.
- Know Your Family History
Heart diseases aren’t necessarily genetic – but predisposition to heart disease can be. If your family has a history of heart disease, it’s best to know.
Ask around – parents, aunts, uncles, whoever you can find – and see if heart disease has been a common cause of death in your family. If it is, consider getting yourself checked out by a doctor, and taking steps to reduce your risk factors.
- Try To Stress Less
Stop laughing. Come on. Stop. Seriously. I mean it. Okay, this is probably the hardest one to do for a nurse – the job is high-stress. That’s just the way it is.
When you’re on the job, you’re probably stressed. However, this is natural – the problems come in if you’re stressing about work when you’re not there.
When you’re not at work, do your best to decompress and destress yourself. Take a bubble bath, have a glass of wine or even – gasp! – consider a vacation!
Stress is a huge health risk for your heart. If you can take appropriate steps to minimize your stress levels outside of work, it’s well worth it. Your heart (and your mind) will thank you.
Keep Your Heart Healthy – And Help Others Do The Same!
Share these tips with a coworker, a friend, a family member, or a significant other. February is the time to raise awareness about the steps you can take for a healthy heart, so use your knowledge for good, and spread the word!