February is American Heart Month, so it’s an ideal time to think about what lifestyle changes you could make to improve your heart health. Exercising regularly and improving your diet are two major ways you can increase your heart health, but what if you’re on a tight budget? Luckily, you don’t have to join a gym or purchase expensive foods to make heart-healthy changes. Read on for our tips to improve heart health without breaking the bank!
Know your numbers. It’s a good idea to establish your baseline numbers, which can help you understand what kinds of healthy changes to make. Visit your family doctor to find out your blood pressure, cholesterol, triglycerides, weight, and body mass index (BMI). You can also get your blood pressure and weight checked for free at many popular pharmacies. Also, keep an eye on the events calendar at work—if your employer is having a health fair, you may be able to find out all those numbers at no cost to you!
Quit tobacco. Tobacco use is a major cause of heart disease. If you use tobacco, consider the many benefits of quitting. Not only will you be healthier for it, you’ll also save a lot of money! Click here to use the American Cancer Society’s Smoking Cost calculator, which will help you see how much money you’re spending on tobacco products.
If you are having a tough time quitting, seek help. Check with your employer to see if a free smoking cessation program is offered at your workplace. If not, there are several organizations that can help you quit smoking. Some resources include:
American Cancer Society:
Toll-free hotline: 1-800-ACS-2345
National Cancer Institute:
Toll-free hotline: 1-877-44U-QUIT
Eat heart-healthy noshes. Instead of snacking on kettle chips, cheese curls, or other processed, fattening treats, reach for nuts, raw veggies, or fresh fruit. According to the Cleveland Clinic, snacking on a few walnuts before a meal can help decrease inflammation in the arteries surrounding your heart, plus help you stay fuller so that you don’t overeat. And the plant sterols in peanuts, macadamia nuts, and almonds can help lower LDL (often known as “bad”) cholesterol. Just make sure to watch your serving sizes when you eat nuts—although they’re often heart-healthy, they are not a low-calorie food. To save money, consider buying nuts and other healthy snacks in bulk.
Swap out the salt. Too much salt can damage blood vessels and increase your risk of developing high blood pressure. Try flavoring your food with herbs and spices instead of salt. Spices add healthy flavor to your meals without adding salt or fat. Experiment with different spices—buy small containers of garlic, ginger, rosemary, paprika, or any other spice or herb that interests you. Try them out in recipes and see which ones you enjoy most.
Go for a walk. According to the American Heart Association, you can reduce your risk of heart disease by engaging in as little as 30 minutes of aerobic exercise 5 times a week. This includes walking! There are so many great places to walk—in your neighborhood, a local park, your favorite mall or shopping center, outside your office at lunchtime…the possibilities are endless. And better yet, walking around any of these places won’t cost you a cent!
Unplug and unwind. Stress can raise your heart rate and blood pressure. To combat stress, take some time each day to unwind at home. Step away from your laptop, turn off your smartphone, and do something that relaxes you, such as read a book, do a workout, have dinner with a friend, or take a soothing soak in the bathtub.
Get your ZZZs. People who don’t get enough sleep are at a higher risk of obesity, high blood pressure, and heart attack, according to the Mayo Clinic. Most adults need 7 to 9 hours of sleep per night. Make sleep a priority by setting a schedule for yourself. Get up at the same time each day and go to bed at the same time each day—even on weekends. Plus, keep your bedroom dark, cool, and quiet to promote better sleep.
For more healthy, low-cost ideas, check out The Healthcare Survival Guide!