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National American Heart Month: 5 Ways to Improve Your Heart Health

Hands creating a heart around a sunset

Image by PhotoMIX on Pixaby

Did you know that people who have close relationships at home, work, or in their community tend to be healthier and live longer? One reason, according to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI), is that we’re more successful at meeting our health goals when we join forces with others. NHLBI launched the #OurHearts movement to inspire us to protect and strengthen our hearts with the support of others.

Here are some facts, how-to tips, and resources to inspire you to join with others to improve your heart health.

Heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women in the United States. About 90%of middle-aged people and more than 74% of young adults have one or more risk factors for heart disease, such as diabetes, high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol, or being a smoker or overweight. Having multiple risk factors increases your risk for heart disease.

Why Connecting is Good for Your Heart

Feeling connected with others and having positive, close relationships benefit our overall health, including our blood pressure and weight. Having people in our lives who motivate and care for us helps, as do feelings of closeness and companionship.

Follow these heart healthy lifestyle tips with your friends, family, coworkers, and others in your community and you’ll all be heart healthier for it:

  • Be more physically active.
  • Maintain a healthy weight.
  • Eat a nutritious diet.
  • Reduce your stress.
  • Get enough quality sleep.

You don’t have to make big changes all at once. Small steps will get you where you want to go.

1. Move More

Invite family, friends, colleagues, or members of your community to join you in your efforts to be more physically active:

  • Ask a colleague to walk with you on a regular basis, put the date on both your calendars, and text or call to make sure you both show up.
  • Join an exercise class at your local community center and bring a neighbor along. Carpool or walk there together to make it a regular date.
  • Grab your kids, put on music, and do jumping jacks, skip rope, or dance.
  • Make your social time active and encourage everyone — family and friends alike — to think of fun activities that get you off the couch and moving.

How much is enough?

Aim for at least 2.5 hours of physical activity each week — that’s just 30 minutes a day, 5 days a week. In addition, do muscle strengthening exercises 2 days a week. Can’t carve out a lot of time in your day? Don’t chuck your goal, chunk it! Try 10 or 15 minutes a few times a day.

2. Aim for a healthy weight

Find someone in your friend group, at work, or in your family who also wants to reach or maintain a healthy weight. (If you’re overweight, even a small weight loss of 5–10% helps your health.) Check in with them regularly to stay motivated. Do healthy activities together, like walking or playing on a neighborhood sports team. Share low-calorie, low-sodium meals or recipes.

3. Eat heart healthy

We tend to eat like our friends and family, so ask others close to you to join in your effort to eat healthier. Research shows that, compared to a typical American diet, it lowers high blood pressure and improves blood cholesterol levels.

4. Manage stress

Reducing stress helps your heart health. Join with a friend or family member to do a relaxing activity every day, like walking, yoga, or meditation, or participate in a stress management program together. Physical activity also helps reduce stress, so it’s a positive feedback loop.

5. Improve sleep

Sleeping 7–8 hours a night helps to improve heart health. De-stressing will help you sleep, as does getting a 30-minute daily dose of sunlight. Take a walk instead of a late afternoon nap! Family members and friends: remind each other to turn off the screen and stick to a regular bedtime. Instead of watching TV before bed, relax by listening to music, reading, or taking a bath.

Visit the NHLBI's website for more information.


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