Tips for a Healthy Heart

By Jan Bernick, Parish Nurse

February! Its heart health month! Time to take inventory of our healthy-heart habits! Just a quick check.


How’s that activity level, are we getting 30 minutes of heart pumping activity 5 days a week? You don’t have to break a sweat but you hopefully moving with enough effort to cause an increase in your heart rate from a sedentary activity like reading, performing computer work, knitting/crocheting or whatever seated activity you find yourself enjoying.


Next, we have to talk about nourishment. What are we feeding ourselves and those whom we love? Lots of fresh veggies, fresh seafood, lean meats, whole grains? The American Heart Association has a great, easy to access website with loads of great information about heart-healthy eating. Think color. Lots of color! Not just plain green salads but think purple cabbage, yellow squash, orange carrots, white turnips, red tomatoes! So many pretty choices and all so good for our heart.

Blood Pressure

How’s that blood pressure? The most recent recommendation from the American Heart Association is to maintain a blood pressure below 120/80. Individuals vary, so you should discuss with your health care provider the target blood pressure for you.


We would be remiss to leave out cholesterol when discussing heart health. There are basically two types of cholesterol, the one your liver makes and the one we consume via foods. These are further divided into HDL (good) and LDL (not so good). If we don’t have enough of the good or have too much of the not so good, we increase the risk that plaques will build up in our arteries that feed our heart and brain. Knowing our cholesterol levels and what they mean personally will help inform us of changes we might need to make for a healthier heart.

No Smoking

It goes without saying but I’m saying it anyway. Tobacco, in any form, should have no place in our lives. Quitting tobacco is one of the best things a user can do to improve their life.

  • You’ll be able to exercise or be physically active with less shortness of breath.
  • Your clothes, hair, body, car and home will smell better.
  • Your sense of taste and smell will return to normal.
  • The stains on your teeth and fingernails will start to fade.
  • You’ll save hundreds or thousands of dollars a year.

According to the Surgeon General, here is how your body starts to recover when smoking stops:
  • In the first 20 minutes: your blood pressure and heart rate recover from the nicotine-induced spikes.
  • After 12 hours: the carbon monoxide levels in your blood return to normal.
  • After two weeks: your circulation and lung function begin to improve.
  • After one to nine months: clear and deeper breathing gradually returns; you have less coughing and shortness of breath; you regain the ability to cough productively instead of hacking, which cleans your lungs and reduce your risk of infection.
  • After one year: your risk of coronary heart disease is reduced by 50 percent.
  • After 5 years: Your risk of cancer of the mouth, throat, esophagus, and bladder are cut in half. Your risk of cervical cancer and stroke return to normal.
  • After 10 years: You are half as likely to die from lung cancer. Your risk of larynx or pancreatic cancer decreases.
  • After 15 years: your risk of coronary heart disease is the same as a non-smoker’s.
Give yourself a quick heart check and make sure to discuss these issues and your current heart health status with your health care provider.
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