If you read any women’s magazines, you know that February is heart month and February 3rd is Go Red Day. Because heart disease and stroke contribute to one in three deaths among women each year, this is a great time to assess how you can be kind to your heart.
But please DON’T think I’m going to preach lots of advice about how you have to deprive yourself to be healthy. This WON’T be a list of things that will make you feel guilty about what you’re NOT doing.
All these small changes I recommend help you keep your heart healthy and make you happy. I promise.
After reading this post, you will feel so much better about all your guilty indulgences.
- Spice up your love life. Physical affection reduces stress hormones, lowers blood pressure, and releases feel-good hormones. All those things are good for your heart. It’s easy to get too busy for affection, but it only takes a moment to share a big hug. The more physical affection you experience, the more you will want. The best part? Being affectionate helps your health AND your marriage. Win win!
- A recent study by researchers at the University of Maryland Medical Center suggests that laughter can reduce risks for heart disease. The old adage is true: laughter really is the best medicine! So don’t feel guilty about binge-watching a sitcom on Netflix. And, if you cuddle with your partner, you’ll get double benefits! My husband and I recently binge-watched IT Crowd, a silly British show about the tech department working in the basement of a slipshod company, and it is probably the funniest thing I’ve ever seen. A little bizarre, a little goofy, a lot hysterical!
- You know how everybody tells you, “Sleep when the baby sleeps!”? If you’re like me, you smile and pretend you’ll do just that, but in reality, you spend naptime trying to cook dinner, clean, exercise, or work on a project. You don’t need sleep, right?! You’re a super-mom! You need to get stuff done, right?! I’ll be honest with you here. You REALLY need the sleep! I never followed that advice until my third was nearly 18 months old and still waking up every few hours at night (I needed to have brought in a sleep consultant!). By that point, my under-eye circles had gotten so dark I started to resemble a zombie (and they still haven’t gone away!). Any extra activity, like exercise, brought on an excruciating migraine. So I finally wised up and started to sleep when she slept. And you know what? I really, really wish I’d started doing that earlier. Lack of sleep can put you at higher risk of heart disease…even if you’re otherwise healthy! So, aim for 7-8 hours a night. If you’re laughing as you read this, hear me out. Cut short your to-do list to get in bed at a reasonable hour, and, by all means, sleep when the baby sleeps!!!
- You know stress contributes to heart disease. Stress does all kinds of nasty things to your body, just like sleep deprivation. So spend a few minutes sitting on the couch reading a magazine or a book. Something that has nothing to do with parenting or work. Just something mindless that lets you forget about everything and gives you a reprieve from the stress of carpooling, breastfeeding, navigating tweendom–whatever challenges you face during the stage of life you’re in. It may feel like a luxury, but it’s really a necessity!
- Be social. Studies have found that social interaction can have positive benefits for your heart. So, take the time to go out for a girls’ night, and leave the guilt at home. If a girls’ night out isn’t a possibility, make a phone date with a best friend. Or get a babysitter and go out with your partner for a date night. You’ll return to your kids feeling more refreshed, less stressed out, and healthier.
- Get moving. Exercise need not be torture. And, unless you’re hoping to launch a career as a fitness model, you don’t need to worry about optimizing your workout by alternating cardio and weights or doing boot camp when you really can’t stand burpees. All you need to worry about is staying active so that your heart can work better. So that means you need to find the kind of exercise you love, whether it’s running, Zumba, yoga, or rock-climbing. Do that thing as often as you can. If you can’t fit it in very often, get active in other ways. Bounce on an exercise ball while watching TV, go for a walk with your hubs and the baby, play tag in the backyard with your kids, have a dance party in your family room. Whatever it is, just do it!
- Eat well. No need to diet or drastically change what you eat. Just make sure that most of what you’re putting in has something that will help your body work better. Oranges for Vitamin C; yogurt for calcium, Vitamin D, and protein; whole grain bread for fiber. If you do this, you can even feel good about indulging in dark chocolate (it has anti-inflammatory properties!) and, on the days you really need it, ice cream (calcium, people!). Really, you don’t have to obsess about what you eat. If you try to eat as many whole foods as you can, you’re already doing an amazing job of keeping your body healthy!
So, this February, indulge in your guilty pleasures…and be kind to your heart at the same time!