Hands and a sunrise.

4 Simple but Powerful Ways to Love Your Heart

Interior photo, smiling woman. Elizabeth Ankeny, CNP, Family Medicine. Glacial Ridge Health System.By Beth Ankeny, CNP, Family Medicine

Now that Valentine’s Day is over and the conversation hearts and assorted chocolates in the cute heart-shaped boxes are on clearance, it is time to talk about the heart that really gets your blood pumping. Coincidentally, it is also around this time many people have “fallen off the wagon” who started out the year wanting to be healthier. Conquering two things at once, here are four powerful tips that will both help you feel good and make your heart flutter as intended.

1. Make fast-food trips a treat vs. a regular occurrence.

The sodium, sugar, preservatives, saturated fat, and empty calories are tough on your body and your heart. Your budget will thank you, your waistline will thank you, and your kids will thank you (in the long run). Family meals at home have benefits beyond the obvious health benefits. Take time to love on your loved ones.

When your busy schedule calls for the occasional fast-food, opt for items that offer some nutritional value and share one order of French fries if skipping them is unrealistic.

2. Add some color to your plate.

Healthy eating starts at home, and healthy recipes exist for the most meticulous eater. Use Pinterest to stock up on healthy and fun meal ideas. Invest in a good knife and sharpen your cutting skill, it will make a difference in the joy of cooking. It is also important to stick to the basics – cook with simple, whole ingredients, and avoid processed foods that are high in preservatives and sodium.

3. Motivate yourself to get active and stay active.

It is crucial to maintaining long-term health for your heart and your body. Be reasonable with yourself and start slow, building activity into your schedule so it doesn’t feel like a chore. Tips to keep yourself motivated: break up the monotony by doing a variety of activities or workouts, download music that inspires you to get up and move, and avoid working out alone. The American Heart Association recommends a total of at least 150 minutes of moderate activity a week, which is less than 30 minutes, 6 days a week. You can break 30 minutes into shorter sessions if you’re crunched for time, and still meet the guidelines.

4. Make yourself a priority. How do you want to live?

Whatever that looks like for you, make a plan, do it, and stick to it. Unhealthy sleep habits, excess stress, anxiety from work or relationships, smoking tobacco, drinking too much alcohol, and other lifestyle ruts have a major effect on your heart and your life. When something doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t. Ask for help. Talk with your health care provider to get more tips on tackling your specific to-do items and you will think, look, and feel well.