It is that time of year again. Roses are blooming. Hearts are everywhere. The little-themed class valentines are appearing everywhere from Walmart to Amazon.
But February is more than a month of boxes of chocolates and Forget-me-nots. It is also National Heart Month. This is a month to take stock of our hearts. After a month of new year’s resolutions, how healthy is your heart?
Is your heart healthy physically? Spiritually? Emotionally? As we start this heart-healthy month, here are ten tips for getting your heart healthy and keeping it that way.
1. Develop a growth mindset: First, let us realize we are not perfect. We can be better at a lot of things. Failure is just a way something did not work – it does not make you a failure. Failures can help show us where we can work better, where we are stronger, and where we can modify things to better serve our purposes. Use these as fuel not capstones.
2. Get your priorities straight: When we lived in Maryland, we were so burdened by the stress busy on the go life, and we did not realize how much until we moved out of state. In the move, we realized we had our priorities out of place. We were so focused on work, school, and the appearance we were giving, that we stopped focusing on the real things that matter – faith, family, friends. We were lonely. Exhausted. Stressed. If we learned anything, it was to get our priorities straight. For me, that means God, family (husband then kid), myself, then friends, then my community. When I need to decide on who gets my attention and how beneficial it will be to my family, I think in this priority list.
3. Take it one step at a time: Every goal is a goal because it has not yet been attained. So, as you evaluate your life (and how far you have come in your new year’s resolutions), remember it takes time. Whether you have chosen one of these resolutions you can keep or something else, it is a process. The same goes with your heart. You will not wake up tomorrow and have perfect heart health. Do not set yourself up for failure. Remember, each day is a new day and getting to a healthy place takes time.
4. Let us get physical: I am the first to say I want to curl up with a delightful book by the fire or binge-watch a show on Netflix or Amazon. Although a part of my heart-healthy me (love myself) decision making, it is not a part of the physically healthy heart I want. We make it a priority in our home to work out a minimum of four days a week. We like our YMCA gym with classes and weights, but we have also learned to be able to use free YouTube workout videos or cheap online programs to mix things up or to be able to do during quarantine/gym closures. Just because you must stay at home does not give mean you cannot get your sweat on! I like Yoga Shred, Les Mills, and Piyo as great at home programs.
5. Plan: This year my husband has set a crazy family goal for us – 300 miles in 365 days! If you know me at all, you know I hate running. But my husband and son love it. So, as part of our heart-healthy family, we run. We have a calendar on the wall that shows our progress and acts as a daily reminder to get out there. My husband and son are also much faster than me, but instead of leaving me to finish alone, they always make a point to run back to me (after they finished their run) and run the reminder with me. We start as a family and finish as a family.
6. Give yourself a break: I am a perfectionist. I loved 100% grades in school. I love a pristine home. I love things done well. But I have also learned to give myself a break. We are not perfect and never will be. The goal needs to shift from perfection to better. I will not run 365 days in a row. Not happening. My husband knows this. So, he gave me 65 days of grace. 65 days I do not have to run. I get a break! This helps build my emotional heart health and family heart health.
7. Make time: Part of any good health plan is to make time. As Ecclesiastes 3:1-8, made popular by the song Turn! Turn! Turn! by the Byrds, says, to everything there is a season. Time to work out. Time to spend with God. Time to spend with your family. Time to laugh. Time to rest. Make the time to make your heart goals a priority. This might mean you take time on the weekend prepping meals for the week. Or you get an hour earlier so you can have quiet time with God. Or you take Friday night once a week to hang out with the girls. The trick is to set it in your planner and make it a priority. For me, if it is in the planner, it happens. If it is not, chances are 50/50.
8. Eat right: I am not a nutritionist, dietician, or doctor. But I am confident that eating right is a part of maintaining a healthy heart. It is also super important for maintaining a healthy lifestyle, weight, and has significant benefits for those with special needs. The gut is related to the brain and everything else. What we put in has an enormous impact on us. So, whether this means your goal is to reduce sugar intake, limit eating out, or increase protein and vegetables in your diet, figure out what works for you. I like the GAPS diet as a great way to start (not stay). This will allow you to see what your body thrives on and what may be harming it. It is also a wonderful way to get a baseline on how you feel and your health. We did it for two years and learned so much about ourselves.
9. Slowly replace unhealthy with healthy: No one should be expected to quit or start something cold turkey. The success rate is limited at best. Instead, try replacing things one thing at a time. According to Healthline, it takes 3-8 months to make something a habit. So, take it one habit at a time. If physical fitness is the key, focus on moving the body for three months before tackling the diet too (or vice versa). If spiritual health is your focus, focus on adding in a devotional or meditation before also adding a small group or class. If emotional health is key, focus on adding quality time with family and friends before adding the next ten meetups you can find. Pick one thing for a minimum of three months and replace the unhealthy habit you want to discard from your life. Slow and steady wins the race.
10. Get enough sleep: Ever notice how no one ever says they hate sleep.? There is a reason for that. Sleep rejuvenates us and heals us. Our bodies do amazing things while we sleep to make us better and stronger. It also helps clear our brains and gives our brains the ability to make wiser and healthy choices with our family, friends, and communities. A wonderful way to have a healthy physical and emotional heart is to get enough quality sleep. If sleep is a hard thing for you or someone you love, as it has been for me and my son, then I encourage you to take a look at these 10 steps to a better night’s sleep that helped us.
So, whether your goal is to be more heart-healthy spiritually, emotionally, or physically, you can do more than you think you can. May these steps work as an encouragement to you as you and I work toward healthier living.