If you’re planning on giving your heart to someone special this Valentine’s Day, or if you’re perfectly happy with your own company, it’s a good idea to make sure your ticker’s in good nick so you’ll see out many more February 14ths. One way to do this is to use a fantastic tool created by the US Centers for Disease Control (CDC) – the Heart Age calculator.
This tool uses data from the well-regarded long-term Framingham Heart Study to determine your risk factors for heart problems. Once you plug in your details, the calculator gives you an estimate of the age of your heart relative to your actual age, acting as something of a wake-up call to anyone who has perhaps gotten a little lackadaisical about their heart health in recent years. The calculator takes just a few minutes and asks questions about your age, height, weight, smoking history, and blood pressure. You also have the option of adding in more specific information such as your cholesterol levels and your parents' history of heart issues. The tool was designed to help people better understand their risks of heart disease and to offer motivation for making lifestyle and dietary choices that reduce the likelihood of a premature death from heart disease. Playing around with the calculator can make it painfully clear that certain behaviours are detrimental to heart health. As such, we’ve rounded up some of the most important changes you can make to make your heart healthier this Valentine’s Day.
- Quit Smoking
Smoking doubles your risk of heart attack and is also a rather unattractive habit that might turn away potential dates. Once you quit, your risk of heart attack immediately starts to fall. Your risk of coronary heart disease is cut in half after a year, and after 15 years your risk is the same of a non-smoker.
- Exercise Regularly
The heart is a muscle, so keep it in good shape by getting at least 150 minutes of exercise a week, working out to about half an hour a day. This can include taking a brisk romantic stroll with your sweetheart, or working up a sweat some other way….
- Cut Down on Salt and Sugar
Both sodium and sugar are linked to increased blood pressure and inflammation that can damage the heart. What’s more, excess sugar increases your risk of diabetes, which is also a risk factor for cardiovascular disease. Eating a whole food, plant-based diet, and cooking most meals at home using herbs and spices for flavour can help cut down your salt and sugar intake dramatically, and improve heart health.
While Valentine’s Day can be stressful for some people, it’s worth remembering that learning to relax is important for heart health. Skip the expensive gift-giving, lavish dinner and rushed weekend getaway and have a romantic, relaxed, low-key, low-stress staycation with the one you love. Or, treat yourself to an evening of quiet relaxation alone without any stressful first dates where there’s a whole heap of extra pressure.
- Get Tested!
While the Heart Age calculator. is a great way to see how just a few changes to your lifestyle and diet can make a major difference, it is also important to talk to your physician and get any recommended tests related to heart health. This will most likely involve a quick check of your blood pressure, and possibly a cholesterol test, depending on your age and other factors. Once your results are in, talk to your doctor about more ways to help keep your heart healthy for years to come.