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Are you ‘hearting’ your heart? Here’s how to keep your heart healthy and strong

According to the American Heart Association, heart disease is the number 1 killer of women, “killing more women than all forms of cancer combined.” February is heart health month – and many people like to celebrate their hearts on Valentine’s day too. It’s a good time to make some plans for self-care, by working toward a healthy heart.

The National Institute of Health has some great information on how the heart works, and how the heart changes with age. They share that the most common aging change is increased stiffness of the large arteries which can cause high blood pressure. This, in turn, can trigger other, sometimes serious, health issues. Early heart disease doesn’t always have symptoms, so it’s important to have regular check-ups with your health care provider. Be sure to tell your doctor if you have any of the following symptoms:

  • Pain, numbness, or tingling in the shoulders, arms, neck, or jaw

  • Chest pain during physical activity

  • Lightheadedness, dizziness or confusion

  • Headaches

  • Cold sweats

  • Nausea or vomiting

  • Swelling in the ankles, feet, legs, stomach or neck

In addition to watching for symptoms of heart disease, there are lots of things we can do every day to help keep our hearts healthy and strong:

Physical activity

  • Talk with your doctor about what might work best for you.

  • Try to get 150 minutes of physical activity each week. Even 10 minutes at a time will help.

  • Start with activities you enjoy, whether it’s a walk, dancing, bowling or even gardening.

Healthy Diet

  • Choose food that is low in sugar, salt and saturated fat

  • Get lots of fiber – from vegetables, fruits and whole grains

  • Watch your portions.

Manage Stress

  • Take a few slow, deep breaths

  • Try meditation

  • Walk away – sometimes we just need a break. Or take an actual walk to cool off, and get some exercise while you’re at it.

  • Break down big problems into small, manageable parts

  • Cuddle with a loved person or pet

  • Read a book, do some art, take a bath, take time for a favorite activity

If you’re a smoker, one of the best things you can do for your heart (and your lungs) is quit. Even quitting later in life can reduce the risk of heart attack, stroke and cancer over time. There are lots of ways to approach quitting, but here’s a good place to start:

Last, but not least, try and get enough sleep. Good sleep impacts our stress levels, as well as our overall health.

This February, celebrate Valentine’s day all month, by supporting a healthy and happy heart.

Reach Dr. Rachel C. Wood, health officer for Thurston and Lewis counties, at 360-867-2501,, or @ThurstonHealth on Twitter.