With the icy patches of winter behind us, it's time to welcome the bright sun, mild temps and feeling of renewal that is the spring season. What better time than spring to assess and improve on some of our heart-healthy habits and routines. Heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women in the U.S., and over 80% of heart problems are preventable. 

Stony Brook Heart Institute cardiologist and advanced heart failure specialist, Edlira Tam, DO, has seven suggestions to help you stay heart-healthy — not only through the spring but all year long…

  1. Add Some Spring to Your Step
  • Researchers have found that living a sedentary lifestyle can put you at increased risk for heart disease. The American Heart Association notes that the simplest, most positive change you can make to improve your heart health is to start walking. 
  • Strive for at least 30 minutes a day, five days a week, of moderate movement. If you spread the 30 minutes out into bite-sized 10-minute chunks you can still reap the benefits. If you will be outside during the peak sun of the day, be sure to bring along plenty of water and apply sunscreen 30 minutes before you head out. Listen to your body. If you aren’t used to regular exercise, are over 50, or have questions about your heart health, see your doctor before participating in any strenuous activities.
  1. Go Green — and Red and Orange
  • Spring is a great time to welcome seasonal fruits and vegetables into your diet. Aim for 4-5 servings daily to help reduce your risk of heart disease and stroke and ensure that you are getting the diverse mix of phytonutrients — disease fighting compounds — that each variety of colorful fruits and vegetables offers. 
  • To follow a heart-healthy eating pattern, limit or avoid those items with saturated fat, trans fat, added sugars and/or sodium listed near the top of the ingredients label.
  1. Stay Well Hydrated
  • Drinking plenty of water not only regulates your body temperature, it also helps your heart pump more easily and helps keep your organs functioning properly.
  • As a rule of thumb, try for the familiar 8 cups or so of water daily. Choose herbal teas and fresh vegetable juices over coffee, fruit juices (high in sugar) or soft drinks. The ability to sense thirst can decrease as we age, so if you’re over 60, it is important to monitor your water intake. About 20 percent of our water intake comes from food. A warm weather diet that emphasizes salads and fruits can both satisfy hunger and provide extra fluid. 
  • Some common heart medications such as ACE inhibitors, beta blockers and diuretics can make heart patients more sensitive to rising temperatures and can increase hydration needs.
  1. Connect With Others
  • Hormones released as a natural stress response are known to harm blood vessels or cause blood pressure to spike. Positive relationships can have a beneficial effect on the brain, in turn reducing the detrimental stress response.
  • Researchers say that those with satisfying social connections tend to live longer and recover more quickly from heart attacks and other health problems. Older adults who volunteered at least four hours a week saw their blood pressure drop by 40%. 
  1. Beware of Springtime Allergies
  • For most hay fever (allergic rhinitis) sufferers, sensitivity to airborne grass and tree pollen is mainly a sniffling, sneezing and coughing nuisance from about April to June. New research, however, has found a possible link between these allergens and an increased risk of cardiovascular disease. 
  • To lessen allergen exposure, avoid being outdoors on windy days, especially from mid-morning to mid-afternoon when pollen counts can be highest; keep doors and windows closed and run the A/C; change your clothes and take a shower after being outside.
  1. Get Enough ZZZ’s
  • It turns out that in addition to the many other worthwhile reasons for a good night's shut-eye, sleep is an essential part of keeping your heart healthy. One study found that adults over the age of 45 who slept fewer than six hours per night were about twice as likely to have a stroke or heart attack as people who slept between 6 to 8 hours. 
  • To help ensure a good night’s sleep: stick to a regular sleep schedule, don’t over eat or consume coffee late in the day; create a room that is cool, dark and quiet; and as tempting as it might be to use your computer or phone before bed, these devices have been shown to interfere with sleep by suppressing the sleep hormone melatonin.
  1. Know Your Numbers
  • Check in with your healthcare provider to discuss any health concerns you might have and to make sure you’re up to date with your recommended health screenings and immunizations. Knowing your numbers and your risk factors is an important part of heart health, especially before engaging in warm weather outdoor activities.

Learn about your heart health risk factors by taking Stony Brook Heart Institute’s free heart health assessment now.