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We may be heartsick, and heartbroken, over heartfelt issues that can cast a cloud over our outlook. People can react to this mood in a number of ways—some may find solace in the menu of the day, craving carbs and chocolate while other folks may dismiss food entirely. Issues that can create less than sunny days can affect heart health and throughout February, American Heart Month, I am focusing on suggestions that can be helpful in keeping disheartening thoughts away.

Manage Stress

Stress management is one of the keys to heart heath. Stress can affect overall health and your heart when you indulge in behaviors such as overeating, smoking or consuming too much alcohol. Stress releases adrenaline which causes both your heart rate and blood pressure to rise as the adrenaline prepares the body for “fight or flight.” An ongoing state of stress can also affect the immune system and damage artery walls. You can manage stress by getting the recommended amount of rest, eating wisely and adding exercise to your daily routine. If you are unable to exercise 30 minutes a day five to seven days a week, take the stairs instead of the elevator, park further away from your destination or take a quick walk during your lunch hour. These small adjustments can be beneficial in maintaining a healthy heart.

Food & Mood

Start your day by eating a balanced breakfast which includes fiber, lean protein, good fats and whole grain carbohydrates. Whole grain bread, turkey or chicken sausage, brown rice, millet, barley, or oatmeal are good choices Researchers have found that eating breakfast regularly improves mood and memory. It also provides more energy and calmness throughout the day.

Chocolate can be beneficial—like tea, dark chocolate contains flavonoids which act as antioxidants. These flavonoids can lower blood pressure and reduce LDL, the cholesterol that is not good for you. Dark chocolate can also stimulate the production of endomorphins, the chemicals in the brain that elicit feelings of pleasure. Dark chocolate also contains serotonin, the chemical that can act as an anti-depressant.

If your mood takes a downturn from being overweight, make a plan to trim away those extra pounds. You can do this by reducing the number of calories you consume and increasing exercise. For example if you indulge in an ice cream dessert at the end of each day, reduce dessert to twice a week or not at all. If you generally walk 15 minutes a day, up the time by ten to 15 minutes. These small changes will pay off.

This may be the month the spotlight is on heart health, but these suggestions are good options to adopt any month. When you incorporate these simple changes into your lifestyle, it is easy to achieve your goal to become a healthier, happier you.

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