February celebrates heart health, but it’s not always easy to make all the best choices for your heart. Try any of these five heart health hacks to get started on a good path to better cardiac health.

1. Treat Yourself

Proper diet is essential to a heart-healthy lifestyle, but that doesn’t mean your food can’t feel decadent. Reducing fats, especially saturated and trans fats, is a given, but so is making sure you’re getting enough fiber, vitamins, and antioxidants. But a heart-healthy diet doesn’t have to be boring or bland. Experiment with spices and flavorings to add some variety. And while a banana split or a wedge of triple-chocolate cake isn’t going to do your heart any good, a few chocolate covered strawberries can satisfy your sweet tooth without overloading your heart.

2. Floss Your Teeth

Heart health depends on lots of protective behaviors, not just intense exercise. Daily flossing has long been known to be a protective action you can take to keep your mouth healthy, but does it also protect your heart? In general, periodontal disease may raise the risk of heart disease and may interfere with proper heart valve functions. Because gum disease can trigger inflammation, and inflammation is tied to heart disease, brushing and flossing every day can help you keep problems at bay and may give your heart extra protection. You get a lot of benefits from just a few minutes of effort.

3. Zone Out

Meditation is known to help bring down stress and reduce inflammation-triggering cortisol. But lots of people think of meditation as something that requires time they don’t have. What if you think of meditation as zoning out, but with a focused mental health purpose? When you walk, focus just on the feel of your feet hitting the ground. Listen closely to the noises outside or to the notes in a favorite piece of music. Watch a movie or read a book that engrosses you. Do something you so enjoy that time slips away. Getting into that kind of quiet state helps your heart reap some important benefits of restorative calm.

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4. Stretch Your Legs

Something as easy as stretching, and stretching your legs in particular, can help with heart health. Some studies have shown that a regular, easy routine of stretching your legs can help keep arteries more flexible which improves blood flow. When the vascular system is in better shape, your cardiac health is going to benefit. Incorporate a routine of stretching your legs every day.

5. Laugh a Lot

From relieving your stress to increasing blood flow to upping your oxygen levels, laughing is serious business when it comes to your heart health. And while the weight of the pandemic might make laughing less easy to come by, it is worthwhile to seek it out. In this digital era, finding a funny video of silly animals or watching 10 minutes of a favorite comedian is easy enough. You can also check in with your funniest friend or even join a group that laughs on purpose—there are laughter clubs that do just that. Don’t wait for the laughter to just happen—make it happen for your heart health.

Julia Quinn-Szcesuil
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