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Exercise is one of the keys in maintaining a healthy heart.

Most of us have at least one experience in our lives with the reality of heart health whether that be you, someone in your family, a friend or simply an acquaintance.

Mine happens to be when my grandfather was diagnosed with atrial fibrillation and eventually died of a heart attack, when my father was diagnosed with atrial fibrillation, and when I went to the ER for what turned out to be diagnosed premature ventricular contractions. Simply put, our hearts don’t quite beat “normally,” and in my grandfather’s case, unfortunately, it led to morbid complications. I’d be willing to put money on the fact that whoever is reading this, would have some experience with heart health in some way.

According to the CDC, in the United States, someone has a heart attack every 40 seconds, and one person dies every 37 seconds in the United States from cardiovascular disease, leaving heart disease as the leading cause of death for men and women in the United States. So, the question begs, how do we combat such a thing as heart attacks and heart disease? How do we not become the negative statistic? There are many things we can do to really help our hearts, whether they are “normal” beating hearts or not “normal.” I’ve narrowed it down to what I believe are four important tips.

1. More fish! Omega 3 fatty acids in fish like salmon, mackerel, cod and tuna help to reduce inflammation in the body, which is important because inflammation can damage blood vessels and lead to heart disease. The American Heart Association also states that these amazing fatty acids help to reduce blood pressure slightly, reduce irregular heartbeats, decrease risk of heart failure and strokes. So, what does “more” fish really mean? Two servings a week, that’s all! There are some pretty amazing recipes for non-fish lovers that can even hide the fact that you’re eating fish. For all of those positive effects, why wouldn’t you eat some fish?

2. Move, move, move. It’s no secret that moving more is essential for our health — we see it everywhere! Take the stairs, go for walks, go to the gym, etc. Well, there’s a lot of truth in the hype. In fact, there’s tons of data to suggest that moving more is as powerful as medications for many conditions. Exercise lowers blood pressure and improves blood cholesterol, for example, which directly impacts your arteries. Once one part of your body is affected, like your arteries, it’s a cycle where more potential risks of disease are involved such as heart disease. So, strive for 150 minutes a week; that’s all it takes!

3. Breathe. The verdict is in — stress affects the health of your heart. In an article about stress and heart health written by the American Heart Association, they describe that when stress is a constant, your body is in “high gear” off and on for days or weeks at a time. This means that certain hormones that aid in your “fight or flight” response are elevated when they really shouldn’t be.

When you’re in this state, the heart works harder than it needs to and of course the pathways would be under stress from the heart working overtime. So how does breathing help this elevated level of stress? Dr. Ashish Chaddha from the University of Wisconsin Hospital and Clinics speaks on how just taking six deep breaths in the span of one minute for just five minutes a day has been proven to immediately lower resting blood pressure.

This is because the vagus nerve is stimulated by deep breathing and this nerve is key in lowering stress associated with the “fight or flight” response. When these things lower, there is lower stress to the heart.

4. Count your blessings. This may seem like a silly tip, but it may be the most important one I’ve got for you. This is a tip that has helped me when my heart is racing, or when I’m scared of developing a-fib like my grandfather and father. Perspective is everything — it’s what stands between you and your happiness. Michelle A. Albert, a professor of medicine at the University of California at San Francisco and director of the Center for the Study of Adversity and Cardiovascular Disease, states that “only about 20 percent of cardiovascular risk is genetics. The other 80 percent is either behavioral or environmental.”

Spend some time counting your blessings — like the ability to even read this article or take the very breaths you’re taking now. You never want to underestimate how beneficial it can

be.

Joanna Simon is a part of the Wellness Staff at the YMCA, she is an advocate for mental and physical health and is a NASM certified personal trainer. She has lived in the Walla Walla Valley for 10 years originating from the Chicago area.