One morning last summer, while taking myself on a hike on one of my favorite local trails, I struck up a brief conversation with a man in his 70s who I had crossed paths with a number of times on my route. He mentioned that he and his wife were moving away and he would miss the trail, especially the hills. I smiled and told him that the hills definitely make you feel alive.
I think of that conversation often when I am trudging up the hills on that trail, some days with a bit more oomph than others. I think of the aliveness of my heart beating in my chest. Of gratitude for my heart. I think of the aliveness of breath. Of gratitude for that breath. Of gratitude for the strength in my legs to carry my body up hill after hill and back down again. Of gratitude for hands that can grip a bottle of water and bring it to my lips to quench my thirst. Of gratitude for eyes that can see the sky, the trees, the tiny creatures hiding in the underbrush. Of gratitude for feeling the warm breeze on my skin. For hearing the sounds of nature.
This Healthy Heart Month, I want to challenge you to offer up gratitude for your heart. For the 100,000 times it will beat today, even if you are not hitting the trails (or haven’t tackled them in years).
Here are some ways you can live with gratitude for your heart and all it does for you, this month and every day:
- Take a stroll around the block or meet up with a friend or family member in a park.
- Too chilly to go outside? Raining again? Put on some of your favorite music and dance or try this YouTube playlist from the National Center on Health, Physical Activity and Disability with ways to get moving at home for many different abilities and ages, including seated workout options that can be done even at your desk. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kH4VIjUsp5o&list=PLwMObYmlSHaPIArTOC4JBZfeuU7LN7KVJ
Get regular health screenings.
- Regular blood pressure, cholesterol, blood sugar and A1C screenings from your physician or local health care provider can help you keep on top of any heart health risk factors.
- Find creative ways to work more fruits, vegetables and whole grains into your diet throughout the week. The Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) plan is a great place to start.
- Follow Partners in Health in Wholeness this March for more tips, when we will be celebrating National Nutrition Month.
- As always, check with your physician or health care provider about any specific restrictions or dietary needs based on your health history.
- Lowering stress is good for your heart and your mood!
- A daily walk, yoga, meditation or other stress-management programs can help, as can setting aside a quiet time for prayer and contemplation or singing your favorite hymns or worship songs.
- Need additional help? Talk with a qualified mental health provider or a trusted clergy member.
- You deserve some rest! Getting 7-8 hours of sleep each night helps improve heart health.
- Trouble sleeping? Try turning off your screens a little earlier in the evening, reading a book, or taking a warm bath. A white noise machine or app can also help.