A Healthy Heart, A Happy Heart Celebrate American Heart Month by practicing healthy habits

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When you think about the risks of heart disease or strokes, you most likely associate the dangers with old age. While the chance of suffering from these health concerns does increase with age, heart health is something everyone should be thinking about as they live day to day. According to the American Heart Association (AHA), there are fortunately many things you can do to secure a healthier lifestyle.

The first piece of the puzzle comes in the form of healthy eating habits. To do this, you must first know how much of each food group you should be eating every day. The AHA suggests five servings of vegetables, four servings of fruits, three-to-six servings of whole grains, three servings of dairy, one-to-two servings of proteins and three tablespoons of oils. The best way to stick to portions is to plan out the meals. By preparing a menu for yourself over the course of a week or two, you can stop impulsive food choices.

Another key component of heart health is exercise. The AHA recommends doing at least 150 minutes of moderate physical activity per week, or 75 minutes per week of vigorous physical activity. Physical activity may sound intimidating, but the AHA describes it on their website as “anything that makes you move your body and burn calories.” This includes playing sports, jogging, swimming and climbing stairs. Even if you can’t quite meet the guidelines, something is better than nothing. Starting small and reaching goals gradually can help your abilities grow over time. You can still get great benefits by dividing your daily exercises into segments of 10 minutes to 15 minutes.

Stress management is also an important part of staying healthy, especially for college students. Stress causes aches and pains, insomnia, anxiety and forgetfulness; many people try to alleviate these symptoms by eating more than usual, procrastinating or turning to alcohol. Instead of turning to unhealthy coping mechanisms, try talking to friends and family, exercising, journaling or volunteering. Healthier habits can help improve your physical and mental health. Finally, remember to take breaks from work or school to relax and refocus your mentality. 

Although new habits can be hard to form, there are ways to integrate practice into your normal routine. Consistency is key; if you decide to start going to the gym, then make it a goal to go every day and not just a few times per week. If you want to focus on clean eating, then meal prep and make healthier food choices, even if you go out to eat. Accountability is also crucial in forming habits, so ask a friend or family member if they want to live a healthier life alongside you. It may sound cliché but not giving up on your goals is the only way to truly make a change. 

“Heart disease and stroke can affect anyone at any age, even college students,” said Stacy Sawyer, senior director of communications at the American Heart Association. “Being physically active, making smart food choices, and watching sugar and sodium consumption are things all students can do.”

For more information about ways to stay heart healthy, visit heart.org. To volunteer for the AHA, call (517) 319-1044 or send an email to kyleigh.wegener@heart.org.