Small Steps to a Healthier Heart

February is American Heart Month and it serves as a great reminder to start making healthy lifestyle choices. According to the CDC, each year in the U.S. every 1 in 4 deaths is related to heart disease. This may sound like a scary statistic, but there’s great news, too. Many of the risk factors for heart disease are manageable or preventable. Here are a few small changes you can make in your daily life to improve your heart health.

Add physical activity to your daily routine. Lifestyle change doesn’t have to be drastic to benefit your health. Try setting a small daily goal that’s achievable for you. This could mean taking the stairs instead of the elevator at the office, spending more time actively playing with your children or pet instead of watching TV, or going for a family walk after dinner. It could even be something different every day, depending on what will fit your schedule (or the Iowa weather) best.

Build a more colorful plate. This is an easy rule of thumb that requires no measurement, counting, or tracking. If your entire meal consists of slightly different shades of beige, it’s probably time to mix things up. Green vegetables like spinach, broccoli, and kale are a great source of fiber to help keep you full, low in carbs, and offer a great mix of vitamins and minerals. But if your current diet is less than healthy, don’t feel like you need to make a massive overhaul all at once. Try setting a goal like eating at least one serving of fruits or vegetables at each meal to get started.

Explore new seasonings. Excess sodium can increase your risk for heart disease and unfortunately many processed foods and restaurant meals are packed with it. Most Americans and nearly 9 in 10 U.S. children are consuming more than the recommended amount of sodium, according to the CDC. If you find yourself reaching for the salt every time your meal is a little bland, challenge yourself to try new seasonings and spices to expand your arsenal.

Small lifestyle changes like these can add up to huge benefits for your overall health and wellbeing. It’s also a smart idea to know where you stand since not all heart disease risk factors can be controlled with behavior changes and not all risk factors have symptoms. If you haven’t already, establish a primary care provider and schedule your annual physical. A small time commitment now could help you live a happier, healthier life in the future.