8 Tips for your Heart Health

Leonardo da Vinci would love February’s American Heart Month.

The Renaissance master (1452–1519) was obsessed with the human heart.

Yes, you probably know him best for the Mona Lisa, Last Supper and Vitruvian man, but you may be surprised to learn that da Vinci spent much of his life studying and drawing the human heart.

After observing  medical procedures in an Italian hospital, da Vince used his gift of total recall to produce elegantly detailed drawings of the heart (see the pictures above). They document his findings, which were unheard of in his time.

  • The heart is the center of the vascular system.
  • The heart is a muscle with four chambers.
  • The heart contracts spontaneously.
  • The heart’s vessels can become clogged.

The World’s First Diagnoses of Heart Disease

He also made what’s considered the world’s first diagnoses of coronary artery disease leading to the death of a 100 year old man. Da Vinci likened the man’s clogged heart vessels to thick “orange peels” that restricted the flow of blood.

On this, February’s American Heart Month, we want to give you some tactics to keep your heart healthy.

Make Leonardo proud! Use these tips when you work with your therapist or follow them in the convenience of your own home!
heart-shaped bowl full of heart-healthy fruits

8 Tips for a Healthier Heart

#1 Weigh Yourself

Before breakfast, weigh yourself and write it down. Compare it to your last weight. Call your doctor or nurse if you see a gain of 2 pounds or more in a 24 hour period or 5 pounds or more in one week.

#2 Take Your Prescribed Medications

Following the directives of your medical provider for medication management is essential to maintain the highest cardiac function.

#3 Check for Swelling in Your Feet, Ankles, Legs or Stomach

Swelling is an indicator of excess fluid in your system. Excess fluid causes the heart to have to work harder and/or exacerbates the ineffective heart function. Swelling is a warning signal. Report it to your medical provider.

#4 Eat Foods Low in Salt

Eat foods that are fresh, colorful and unprocessed. Salt hides out in a lot of foods we might think are healthy. Foods like sauces, frozen meals, canned goods — even the ones that claim to be healthy or say “lower sodium” — have too much salt, often 300 mg of sodium in a half cup! We have some quick and easy tips on how to reduce your salt intake in this recent Marquis blog.

#5 Watch and Record Your Daily Fluid Intake

Too much fluid forces the heart to work extra hard to pump the excess fluid volume. This can increase your symptoms: shortness of breath, weight gain, bloating and swelling of the feet or legs. Count all fluids you consume: water, coffee, tea, juice, milk and soft drinks, even fluids in foods that become liquid at room temperature. Those include soups, popsicles, frozen yogurt and ice cream. (Yes, we know. Including ice cream…that just isn’t fair!) What to do about dry mouth? Hard, sugar-free candy, a lemon wedge, frozen orange sections, frozen grapes or gum can help. Oddly, frequent brushing of your teeth also alleviates dry mouth.

#6 Balance Activity and Rest Periods

Your medical provider, nurse, physical therapist or occupational therapist can help you develop an exercise and activity plan that works on muscle strength and flexibility. They will also teach you how to plan rest periods around any symptoms, like shortness of breath.

#7 Everyday Determine Your Heart Zone

Knowing when to call your doctor is as easy as knowing these three color zones –– green, yellow and red.

  • The Green Zone: This is your goal. Your symptoms are under control. You’re not experiencing any shortness of breath; weight gain of 2 pounds in a 24 hour period; ankle, leg or stomach swelling; or chest pain.
  • The Yellow Zone: This is your warning zone. Call your doctor or home health nurse if you experience weight gain of 2 pounds or more in a 24 hour period or 5 pounds or more in one week (If your weight increases 2 pounds or more in a 24 hour period or 5 pounds or more in 1 week, notify your doctor or nurse); increased shortness of breath and difficulty breathing when lying down; increased swelling of your feet, ankles, legs or stomach; dry cough; dizziness; or an uneasy, “something’s not right” feeling.
  • The Red Zone: This is the emergency zone. Go to the emergency room or call 911 immediately if you’re struggling to breath; or experiencing unrelieved shortness of breath while sitting still, chest pain, confusion and inability to think clearly.

#8 (Try to) Get 7 Hours of Sleep

This is the newest tip for managing and/or preventing chronic conditions, because couldn’t we all use more sleep for greater physical and mental health! A new study from the Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health, affirms sleep can reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease. Sleep helps reduce stress and inflammation, allowing your cells to “remodel” and your body and mind to heal.

  • Limit your caffeine intake to the morning.
  • Don’t nap too long during the day. That may indicate you’re not getting enough exercise during the day and it will keep you up at night.
  • Avoid screen time before bedtime. The blue light emitting from your electronic devices triggers a chemical release in the brain that tells you to stay awake.
  • Limit fluid intake before bed.
  • Invest in a comfortable mattress and bedding.
  • Keep your room on the cool side.
  • If you snore, talk to your doctor about getting tested for sleep apnea.

On this American Heart Month, do what Leo would do: marvel at that incredible beating masterpiece in your chest and let’s all get heart healthy!

You can use your own journal or use some of the free downloadable tools here.