Love Your Heart, Love Your Health

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Written on behalf of the NIH/NIDDK Weight-control Information Network

Each February, we celebrate Valentine’s Day—and American Heart Month. Because heart disease is the number 1 killer of both men and women in the United States, we should be tending to affairs of the heart all year long.  

About 600,000 people in the United States die of heart disease each year: that’s 1 in every 4 deaths. Heart disease runs in families, but even if it runs in yours, you can take steps to reduce your chances of developing the disease. Practicing lifestyle habits such as making healthy food choices and getting regular physical activity may help you protect your heart. These lifestyle habits can help you manage or reduce your chances of developing other diseases, such as type 2 diabetes, which can also increase your chances of developing heart disease.

No Time Like the Present

If you don’t get enough physical activity, why not start right now? The Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans define regular physical activity as at least 2.5 hours, or 150 minutes, per week of moderate-intensity physical activity—for example, brisk walking. A brisk walk is a pace of 3 miles per hour or faster. A moderate-intensity activity makes you breathe harder but does not overwork or overheat you. 

If you haven’t been active or can’t find blocks of time for physical activity, start with 10 minutes of activity 3 days per week. You can gradually work up to 30 minutes a day, 5 days a week. Parking your car farther from your destination or taking a short walk during a work break, if possible, are examples of how you can fit some activity into your daily schedule. 

The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases’ (NIDDK) Weight-control Information Network (WIN) has information to help you adopt a healthier lifestyle, including how to get started and stick with your new habits. Finding an activity you really enjoy and doing it with friends or family members is one way to stay motivated—and motivate others at the same time.

A Family Affair

Developing healthy habits early in life may help prevent heart disease and other problems later on. If you have children, involve the whole family in activities you can do together. Take a walk to the park or playground, stroll through a shopping mall, or turn on some music and have a dance party or play a game of musical chairs. Let family members take turns coming up with fun activities. 

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You also could involve the whole family in preparing meals. Take your children grocery shopping and ask them to make healthy suggestions for what to cook. Talk with them about food portions and making healthy choices when they eat at a friend’s house or restaurant.  

Adopt these healthy lifestyle habits and love your heart—and your health—this month and every month throughout the year!

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