What do Valentine’s Day and Heart Health Awareness Month have in common? Doodling hearts in my bullet journal, wearing my red dress and eating dark chocolate.
And they both have a special place in February’s heart. Maybe some smart marketing person out there put two and two together because now that I think about it, they do go hand in hand. You’ve got to have a strong and healthy heart if you’re going to put yourself out there on dating apps these days.
Why Heart Health Is Important
Heart Health Awareness Month, aka American Heart Month, is a time when the American Heart Association encourages all people—especially women—to focus on their cardiovascular health. According to the CDC, heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States, and the American Heart Association reports cardiovascular disease is the No. 1 killer of women, causing one in three deaths each year. You may have also heard of National Wear Red Day (it was Feb. 2) or the American Heart Association’s “Go Red” campaign to raise awareness around cardiovascular disease.
Regardless of which favorite American pastime you choose to focus on this month, it seems that everyone is interested in your heart. So follow your heart and go on that second date. Give yourself a little self-love. Start a new habit that will improve your heart health. Maybe they don’t have to be mutually exclusive.
Easy Ways to Improve Your Heart Health
And if all this has you thinking that maybe it’s time to adopt a heart-healthy lifestyle, here are four unexpected (and easy) ways to improve heart health that you can do solo or with a partner.
1. Reduce Caffeine Intake
Low to moderate caffeine intake is OK, but it’s probably no surprise that guzzling several cups of coffee can raise your blood pressure and be “detrimental to health.” In fact, The National Library of Medicine reports that the “majority of studies showed a J-shape association in which moderate coffee consumption was associated with a lower risk of coronary heart disease compared to heavy coffee consumption which was associated with an increased risk of coronary heart disease.”
It may be hard to know whether you’re overdoing it, but keep in mind that the average cup of coffee contains 90-100 mg of caffeine. According to the FDA, that can vary up to +/-30 mg, depending on the beans and the roasting method. In comparison, :rise Cacao has around 35 mg of caffeine per serving. So if you’re planning a date this month, you may be doing your heart (and your sweetheart) a favor if you meet for tea instead of coffee. Or if your heart’s really in it, go straight to dinner.
2. Start a Gratitude Practice
Focusing on positivity and listing what you’re grateful for every day can have a huge impact on your mental and physical health. UCLA Health reviewed several studies and found that “a grateful mindset positively affects biomarkers associated with the risk for heart disease.” And its 2021 review of research also found that “keeping a gratitude journal can cause a significant drop in diastolic blood pressure—the force your heart exerts between beats.”
You don’t even have to write down what you’re grateful for. Just having grateful thoughts helps your heart by slowing and regulating your breathing to synchronize with your heartbeat. Does that mean that if you and your partner both think about what you’re grateful for at the same time, your hearts will beat in tune? I don’t know, but it sure does sound romantic.
3. Incorporate Meditation Into Your Day
There's a lot more you can do to prevent heart attacks and strokes than just focusing on medications, exercise and diet. Meditation can “help reduce stress and anxiety, which can lower heart rate and blood pressure while reducing harmful hormones” according to Harvard Medical School.
The organization recommends a minimum of 10 minutes a day to get the benefits, and any type of meditation will do. You can sit in silence, follow a guided meditation or do transcendental meditation which utilizes a mantra to focus the mind. If you’ve never tried meditation before, start small and work your way up. Getting your partner involved in starting the new habit with you may give you the accountability to stick with it. Plus, partners who meditate together stay together. That’s how the saying goes, right?
4. Focus on Your Breath
Even how you breathe can have an impact on your heart health. One study found that within just seven days of regular slow breathing practice, the participants experienced “attenuated sympathetic tone,” which is associated with lower blood pressure and heart rate. This makes sense, considering breathing both affects and is affected by the nervous system. As the American Heart Association points out, “when we breathe, that actually impacts how much blood is ejected from our hearts."
In other words, slowing down your breath can slow down your heart rate and help you feel more relaxed. But it’s not just all in your head, it signals to your body that everything is OK and triggers your parasympathetic nervous system (the body’s rest and digest mode). Harvard Medical School suggests that 10 minutes of deep breathing every day can lower your blood pressure just as much as taking medication would. I know you didn’t come here for progressive date ideas, but taking your partner to a breathwork class seems like a no-brainer. You’ll leave feeling more relaxed and having done something good for your health while you’re at it.
Adopt a Heart-Healthy Lifestyle at Your Own Pace
Personally, I’m not too concerned about my heart health at the moment, but I do want to age as gracefully as I can and live as long as possible. That’s why I’m so focused on incorporating healthy habits into my daily rituals. (Sound familiar?) So these are all habits I’ve adopted myself and have encouraged my partner to adopt too. After all, I want him to be happy and healthy too.
If you’re not sure where to start, just follow your heart. Or buy yourself some dark chocolate. (That’s what I like to do, anyway. Thankfully, dark chocolate is also shown to have positive effects on heart health. )
And I don’t know if the Sweethearts marketing team is reading this, but if “let’s lower your blood pressure” would fit on a heart, it seems like an obvious tie-in to me.
Rae Repanshek is MUD\WTR's talented copywriter.