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February is American Heart Month—a good time to focus on heart healthy lifestyles. In order to improve your heart health, you have to look at your overall health and take note of your diet, exercise habits and attitude.


If you are a Type A personality who aims for perfection 24/7, the type of person who sees the glass as half empty instead of half full, or you carry anger with you throughout the year, then you have more to worry about than just your heart health.

"Good nutrition and daily exercise are vitally important components to heart health, but psychological well-being is equally important. This is the best time to take an inventory of your overall health," says board-certified Internal Medicine specialist Dr. Abby Sokunbi.

The following tips should help to get you started:

  • Have an annual physical with your physician. Depending on your age and medical history and only after an exam and discussion with your personal physician, this check-up might include some tests, such as a lipid panel to test your cholesterol levels, a screen for blood glucose levels, a complete blood count, a metabolic panel and an EKG. This is also a good time to discuss with your physician any vaccinations you may need, such as the hepatitis vaccination and a tetanus booster.
  • Consider an evaluation by a registered and licensed dietitian. A dietitian can evaluate your current diet and exercise habits in addition to any other diet or nutrition-related condition or disease you may have.
  • Have an annual dental check up and an eye exam. Most people do not realize that poor dental and vision health are indicators of overall health.
  • Develop a plan. Based on the evaluations and recommendations of your physician, dietitian, dentist and eye doctor, develop a plan to get yourself back on track to improve your health.
  • Think in positive terms. While there is nothing wrong with resolving to stop eating sweets, it’s more constructive and positive to say, ‘I will eat five servings of fruit and vegetables a day.’
  • Be specific. Many people make big, vague resolutions, such as to lose weight, eat healthier or exercise more. The best resolutions are very specific and attainable. Breaking down the big goal of losing weight into smaller chunks will make it easier. If one of your resolutions is, ‘I will walk for 30 minutes a day, 5 days a week,’ you have a specific goal—something by which to measure your success and keep yourself accountable as the year goes on.
  • Replace bad habits with good habits. A bad habit is easier to break if you replace it with a good habit. For example, if you’ve gotten into the habit of picking up fast food on the way home from a busy day at work, resolve to find one new healthy and fast recipe every week and add that to your weekly shopping list. If you know that you have the ingredients for a quick, healthy meal at home, it makes hitting the drive-thru easier to resist.
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