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Cardiovascular Health

How the American Heart Association Can Help You Find Your Fierce

Photo: Courtesy of the American Heart Association

Today, 1 in 3 adults in the United States report being worried or depressed, and more than half of U.S. adults say COVID-19 has negatively impacted their mental well-being due to worry and stress. Stress may lead to unhealthy habits like overeating, physical inactivity, and smoking, which can worsen risk factors for heart disease and stroke, such as high blood pressure. In addition, stress can cause or worsen depression and anxiety.   

On the flip side, managing and reducing stress can improve feelings of happiness, purpose, and gratitude, all of which can keep hearts and minds healthier, and make it more likely for people to stick with healthy habits. On this World Heart Day, Sept. 29, the American Heart Association is encouraging you to Find Your Fierce and make time to prioritize physical and mental health.

“Reducing stress, and improving psychological health and well-being are more important than ever for improving heart health,” said Glenn N. Levine, M.D., FAHA, master clinician and professor of medicine at Baylor College of Medicine, chief of the cardiology section at the Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center, and chair of the writing committee for the American Heart Association’s Scientific Statement on mental well-being.

Healthy heart tips

Staying active is one of the best ways to keep your body and mind healthy. Not only can it help you feel, think, sleep, and live better, it improves overall quality of life. Physical activity is linked to lower risk of diseases, stronger bones and muscles, improved mental health and cognitive function, and lower risk of depression. The American Heart Association recommends adults get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity or 75 minutes of vigorous activity per week. 

If you’re just getting started with a workout regimen, start small. Stand, stretch, walk, dance, do whatever gets you moving — any movement is better than no movement, and more is better! Start out with just five minutes of movement and build up from there, or split up your movement throughout the day. 

Finding time to get active requires making a commitment by scheduling time throughout the day to move. Set a reminder on your calendar, phone, or a journal — any method that you know you’ll check. 

Some other easy methods for staying active throughout the day include:

  • Taking phone calls standing up
  • Using commercial breaks or time between episodes of your favorite show to do a few jumping jacks or stretches
  • Reducing work meetings by 5 minutes and using the extra time to stand up and move
  • Getting moving with one of the American Heart Association’s Fierce 5 Movement Break videos or podcasts

A positive mindset can also improve your overall health. A recent study shows people with higher levels of optimism had a 35 percent decreased risk of cardiovascular disease. Some studies show a more positive mindset can help you live longer, and happy people tend to sleep better, exercise more, eat better, and not smoke. 

Mindfulness tips

  • Incorporate mindfulness meditation into your well-being routine to help reduce stress. 
  • Gratitude — or thankfulness — is a powerful tool that may lessen feelings of depression and anxiety, and improve sleep. Start by writing down three things you’re grateful for each day. 
  • Research shows that having a pet may help you get more fit, and lower your stress, blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar; and boost your overall happiness and well-being.
    • When we see, touch, hear, or talk to our companion animals, we feel a sense of goodwill, joy, nurturing, and happiness. At the same time, stress hormones are suppressed.
    • Dog ownership is associated with a lower risk of depression.
  • If stress becomes unmanageable on your own, seek help from a licensed mental health professional. 

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