7 Simple Steps to a Healthy Heart

February is a little month dedicated to a lot of things – Valentine’s Day, President’s Day, and my favorite Groundhog Day. To be fair, it’s the movie I love. In it, the character played by Bill Murray lives the same day over and over, trying everything he can think of to escape it all while trying to win the heart of Andie MacDowell. What he learns is that it’s not grand gestures or knowing everything or having everyone like you that wins the day; it’s living authentically and caring about the small graces that allows him to wake up on February 3 and yes, to win the girl.

I, like many people, use January to resolve, to make grand gestures and to hope some of its newness will rub off on me. And come February 2, it’s Groundhog Day. My resolutions go the way of set behaviors. That’s why I’m making Heart Health Month my new favorite part of February. The American Heart Association lists seven simple steps to achieve heart health:

  • Eat Better 
  • Get Active
  • Lose Weight
  • Quit Smoking
  • Reduce Blood Sugar
  • Control Cholesterol
  • Manage Blood Pressure

Simple doesn’t mean easy but it does mean that grand gestures don’t get you there. It means nudging yourself on a fairly regular basis towards simple goals, it means choosing long term outcomes over short term gratification more often than not. Five out of the seven are about food, which is awesome. I like to look at 7 Simple Steps like this:

Quit smoking – it’s incredibly difficult but the upside is awesome – you can taste and smell better. Food becomes more wondrous.

Get active – it doesn’t say punish your body or set unrealistic goals, just get active. Walk more – we’re lucky to be located in amazing downtown areas; park the car and see what’s in your neighborhood. In Monroe County, the American Heart Association provides maps to 30 walking paths.  Movement feels good, even just a little of it.

Eat Better and Lose Weight – I like to think of these as maintain a healthy weight and eat well. Eating well is about more than choosing food for its pharmaceutical value – it’s about choosing food in season, at its peak, for its flavor, for the fun of creating new dishes. It’s about enhancing your life with goodness and bounty. If you want to lose a few extra pounds to get to a healthy weight, explore new flavors and new dishes. It’s about making your mouth happy. You can eat fewer calories and be incredibly satisfied by forgoing the ingredients in processed food and replacing them with the more satisfying ingredients in food you prepare for yourself. Which brings us to:

Reduce Blood Sugar, Control Cholesterol, and Manage Blood Pressure – here it’s about replacing one type of ingredient for another – not giving up on anything in particular. It’s so easy to do:

  • Add a flavored balsamic to sparkling water – you have a flavorful fizzy drink without all the sugar and chemicals present in soda pop.
  • Substitute spices for salt – you’ll create new flavor profiles without missing salt a lick.
  • Use fresh olive oil – 2500 years ago, Hippocrates (of Hippocratic oath fame) called olive oil, “the great healer.” He knew from experience what we know now from science – fresh, quality olive oil has amazing healing properties. Just a cursory search on the National Institute of Health’s research site shows in significant, peer-reviewed studies, olive oil helps control cholesterol, lower blood pressure, and makes for a healthier you.

You can have it all – flavorful, satisfying meals and heart health. And you can finally wake up to a new song on February 3rd.


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