(Newswise)–American Heart Month in February is the perfect time to initiate lifestyle changes that can help lower your risk of cardiovascular diseases, the world’s largest killers, claiming 17.1 million lives a year*. Fitness expert Karin Richards, director of the exercise science and wellness management program at University of the Sciences in Philadelphia, shares simple lifestyle changes that can keep your heart healthy to reduce the risk of heart disease, heart attacks, and strokes:
• Engage in cardiovascular exercises such as running, walking, or swimming, at least 20-30 minutes a day, every day.
• Gauge your exercise intensity with the sing/talk test: If your pace is meeting your target heart rate, you should be able to talk without being breathless. If you can’t catch your breath to talk, your exercise intensity is too great. If you can sing while you exercise, it’s not vigorous enough.
• Walk everywhere – skip the elevator and the escalator and take the stairs.
• Spend at least 10 minutes each day doing an activity you find relaxing, such as yoga, meditation, reading, or walking.
• Consume stimulants such as coffee, tea, soft drinks, and chocolate in moderation. Caffeine can increase the body’s levels of cortisol, the “stress hormone,” which has been linked with higher body fat percentages and increased stress.
Know Your Numbers
• Resting Heart Rate: Find your resting heart rate in the morning before getting out of bed. With your index and middle finger on your radial artery on the wrist or at the carotid artery in your neck. Over three days, count how many beats occur within 60 seconds to get an average. For adults, a normal resting heart rate is 60 to 100 beats per minute. An unusually high or low heart rate may indicate an underlying problem. Consult your doctor if your resting heart rate is consistently above 100 or below 60.
• Target Heart Rate: Target heart rates vary by age, but they are the range which enables one’s heart and lungs to receive the most benefit from a workout. Visit http://www.americanheart.org to find your estimated target heart rate.
• Cholesterol Levels: High blood cholesterol is a major risk factor for coronary heart disease and stroke and should be checked by your healthcare provider at least once a year.