VCU HR Well-Being blog

Giving VCU employees the wellness resources they need to be healthy both on and off campus

4 simple ways to prioritize heart health

With heart disease clinching the top spot as the leading cause of death in the U.S., it’s always a good time to think about small shifts you can make to help lower risk factors, like high blood pressure and cholesterol. And while this topic can often feel overwhelming, it’s important to remember that small changes add up. You don’t have to completely overhaul your lifestyle—it’s all about making adjustments that work for you right now and staying consistent. Practice builds confidence, and confidence helps you build healthier habits for the long-haul.

Here are four things you can do this month to show your heart some love:

  1. Use herbs & spices to flavor your dishes : Many of us are consuming too much sodium, which can lead to heart-straining high blood pressure. And while most of the sodium in our diets comes from packaged and prepared foods, it’s much easier to control how much salt goes into the pan when cooking at home. So whenever you’re the chef, lean in to herbs & spices. Start with flavor-boosters like basil, cilantro, rosemary, sage, tarragon, black and red chili pepper, mint, and oregano. These can help you cut back on high-sodium staples, and you may realize you don’t need as much (or any!) salt once you’re done seasoning.
  2. Challenge yourself (and your family) to “eat” the rainbow : Try to make every dish as colorful as you can with different types of produce—from leafy greens to sweet potatoes to berries. Fruits and veggies are filled with vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants that support overall health, including heart health. And adding more of these nutritional powerhouses to your daily meals and snacks is always a good idea. Build the rest of your plate with 100% whole-grains, fatty fish (like salmon or tuna), pulses, plant-based oils, and part-skim, unsweetened dairy products. Bonus: many of these foods are also packed with potassium which helps counterbalance sodium in the body. 
  3. Be on the lookout for sneaky sources of added sugar : Diets high in added sugar have been linked to increased risk of heart disease and chronic disease—and the average American consumes about 17 teaspoons each day. Don’t worry though, we’re not suggesting you cut out all sweets. Chocolate and candy, like all other foods, can absolutely fit into an overall healthy pattern of eating! It’s all about being conscious of where you’re consuming sugar. You may not realize it, but added sugar can be found in everything from bread to pasta sauce. Thankfully, you can easily check how much added sugar a product has on its Nutrition Facts label. And keep in mind, natural sugar, like the type you find in fruits and dairy products, isn’t the same. Many foods that contain natural sugar also provide other essential nutrients (like fiber, and vitamins and minerals) that support overall health.
  4. Move more—in whatever way works for you : Adding more activity to your day can offer a slew of health benefits, including reduced risk of heart disease. But that doesn’t mean you have to shell out for pricey at-home gym equipment or commit to running miles each week (unless you want to, then by all means go for it!). Your movement goals could be as simple as standing up between meetings, taking a walk around the block after dinner each night, or finding time to sneak in a few arm exercises at your desk. No matter what, remember this: The best type of activity is one you actually enjoy, because that’s what you’re more likely to do consistently. 

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