Riley Heruska
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According to the federal government, February is officially American Heart Month! National organizations and medical personnel use this month as an opportunity to spread awareness about heart diseases, as well as to promote better understanding about prevention and treatment. 

Cardiovascular diseases lead to 17.9 million deaths worldwide each year, and according to recent studies, that number is expected to rise to 23.6 million by 2030. In today's society, roughly one in every four deaths in the United States can be attributed to heart disease. Therefore, regardless of your age or gender, it's a smart idea to learn more about your own heart's health and what you can do to better it in 2018. 

Here are some of the best ways to care for your heart and lower your risk of dangerous diseases. 

Engage in Plenty of Physical Activity Every Week  

Staying active isn't just about maintaining a trim figure or building muscle; it's a fantastic way to protect your body from high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and the risk of heart attacks and strokes. You don't have to be a marathon runner to reap the heart benefits of physical activity. According to the American Heart Association, getting at least 150 minutes per week of at least moderate exercise is enough. This year, make an effort to take the stairs more often and adopt a hobby that gets you moving. Swimming, biking, walking, running, and stretching are just a few types of aerobic exercise that will benefit your heart. Remind yourself that any level of physical activity is better than none at all. 

Get Plenty of Sleep Each Night 

Countless studies have shown that Americans generally don't get the appropriate sleep, which is detrimental in a variety of ways. People who fail to sleep enough are typically at a higher risk for cardiovascular disease and coronary heart disease, regardless of how much they work out, eat right, or watch their weight. Even adolescents who are staying up too late and waking up too early can develop heart problems, despite their young age. According to the National Sleep Foundation, young adults and teens should be getting between eight and ten hours of sleep. Adults should be sleeping for a minimum of seven hours most nights, regardless of their overall health or busy schedules. 

Switch Out the Bad Fats for Good Ones

Not all fats are unhealthy, and sorting between the good and bad ones can seriously improve the condition of your heart. Your body needs monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats in order to function properly. To make sure you're consuming plenty of healthy fats, try to include foods like avocados, olive oil, salmon, nuts, and lean meat in your diet. 

Saturated and trans fats, on the other hand, are firmly on the "evil" side of the fat chart. These bad fats can raise your cholesterol levels and increase your chances of developing heart disease, diabetes, and strokes. Unfortunately, bad fats are found in many of our favorite foods, like desserts, frozen pizzas, margarine, fatty beef, pork, butter, cheese, and dairy products. You probably won't avoid these foods all of the time, but make a conscious effort to eat more good fats than bad if you want to live a long, healthy life. 

Monitor Your Cholesterol Levels 

As was just stated, bad fats can increase your cholesterol levels and put you at risk of serious heart problems. You might also experience problems with your cholesterol levels if you are overweight, have diabetes, are pregnant, or are dealing with other health concerns. To make sure you're not putting your heart in jeopardy, pay attention to your cholesterol levels and work to keep them in a healthy range. Eating foods like oats, nuts, beans, whole grains, fatty fish, and fruits can help lower your levels if they get too high. Try not to indulge in red meat or baked goods too often as they are known to increase your levels significantly. 

Watch Your Sugar Intake 

No matter how old you are, eating too much sugar on a regular basis is a bad idea. Even if you work out and maintain a healthy weight, a sugar-laden diet can seriously increase your risk of heart disease, according to studies conducted at Harvard. Unfortunately, Americans ingest plenty of sugar in their favorite drinks, yogurts, cereals, and desserts. Although indulging in the occasional sweet treat isn't a bad idea, try to ensure that your diet consists of more heart-healthy foods than it does sugary, empty-calorie meals. 

Quit Smoking (For Good This Time) 

You've probably been told time and time again that smoking increases your risk of lung and throat cancer, but did you know that it can also up your chances of developing cardiovascular diseases? The chemicals in cigarette smoke line your blood vessels, which then become swollen and inflamed. This can lead to strokes, coronary heart diseases aneurysms, peripheral arterial disease, and other extremely serious health concerns. 

The good news? Even if you've been smoking for years, quitting now can improve your health drastically. The key is to stop smoking completely. Even the occasional cigarette can leave bad side effects, so kick the habit for good. 

To learn more about American Heart Month and what you can do for your health, visit this page by the American Heart Association

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