Who doesn’t love February in Nashville? We have milder temperatures than most locations across the United States, which means we can still partake in many outdoor physical fitness activities, unlike our Northern neighbors.
Why else do I enjoy February? It is the month that slows down after the holidays, with a breather from the hustle and bustle of December and January. Further, I absolutely LOVE Valentine’s Day and all the red velvet which comes along with it. Plus, heart-shaped balloons, red roses, healthy dark chocolate, and the many Valentine’s Day cards I receive from my family are my absolute favorite!
Though on a more important note, February is the American Heart Association’s (AHA) annual observance of Heart Month. A time when the nation spotlights heart disease; an affliction that kills thousands of Americans each year. AHA’s yearly focus and awareness provide comprehensive directives on how to keep your heart strong with never-ending reminders on the importance of exercise and eating healthy.
Though sadly, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, “heart disease still is among the leading causes of death in the United States, claiming the lives of more than 650,000 individuals annually.”
The AHA has consistently stated a healthy diet and a vigorous lifestyle is the key to preventing and managing cardiovascular disease; disciplines I, along with my family, consistently follow. But for those who are lacking in that routine, let’s discuss simple steps to become cardiovascularly healthier. Accordingly, it is important to:
Eat a healthy array of food that emphasizes the following: A wide variety of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Healthy sources of protein (plants, legumes, and nuts; fish and seafood; low-fat or nonfat dairy). Utilize liquid, non-tropical vegetable oils; stay away from over-processed foods, sugars, and salt, while limiting alcohol.
Utilize heart-healthy options when preparing food: Fish high in omega-3 fatty acids (salmon, tuna, and trout) are great choices. Meats such as 95% lean ground beef, pork tenderloin, or skinless chicken or turkey are also good options, along with eggs and soy products like tofu, not to mention kidney beans, lentils, chickpeas, black-eyed peas, and lima beans. Always read food labels to choose those with less sodium, sugar, and fat. Look for the heart-check certification to find foods that have been certified by the AHA, as heart-healthy.
Exercise: According to hopkinsmedicine.org, the benefits of exercise include improving the muscles’ ability to pull oxygen out of the blood, and reducing the need for the heart to pump blood to the muscles. Exercise also reduces stress hormones which cause extra function of the heart, while also working as a beta blocker to slow the heart rate and lower blood pressure.
Minimize fried foods: Fried foods are high in saturated fat and trans-fat which promote plaque buildup in arteries that can put you at risk for coronary artery disease, heart failure, heart attack, and stroke.
Burn as many calories as you consume: Know how many calories you are eating and drinking daily to maintain your existing weight. Increase the amount of physical activity, daily, to burn added calories.
No Tobacco: Don’t smoke, vape, or use any type of tobacco or nicotine products — and avoid secondhand smoke. According to Tobacco Free Florida, smoking increases the formation of plaque in blood vessels. Coronary heart disease occurs when arteries carrying blood to the heart muscle are narrowed by plaque or blocked by blood clots. Chemicals in cigarette smoke cause the blood to thicken and form clots inside veins and arteries.
For more information on AHA educational guidelines, click here.
Before I close, I want to also point out a couple of not-so-serious fun facts about February. Did you know, February comes from the Latin word februa, which means ‘purify?’ February was named after the Roman Februalia, a festival of purification. The days in February were finalized by Julius Caesar when he recreated the Roman calendar assigning the month 28 and 29 days in 713 B.C.
Additionally, February is one of the most misspelled words in the English language. And finally, did you know Valentine’s Day began as a Christian celebration? According to Wikipedia, Valentine’s Day originated as a Christian feast honoring the Christian martyr Saint Valentine, and through years of folklore and tradition, it has become a cultural, religious, and commercial celebration of romance around the world.
So now, you should better understand why I love February. It is a fascinating month of history, folklore, and celebratory fun. Though most importantly, it’s the perfect month to focus on strengthening our cardiac health to live a longer, healthier, and more productive life.
Dr. Christina Rahm is the Chairman of the Board and Chief Science and Development Officer of The ROOT Brands. Dr. Rahm is also the CEO and Founder of DRC Ventures which executes patent formulations and brand development for The ROOT Brands and other global companies.