You know you need to be good to your heart. You might NOT know you can help your heart in ways that are as easy as taking a snooze.

As a nonprofit dedicated to improving the nation’s health, the Brown County Community YMCA has some tips to help families in Brown County be heart healthy.

We’ll start with strategies that won’t even raise a sweat.

Keep reading and you’ll find some that are tougher.

But the benefits will be amazing!

1: Take a snooze: I told you this could be easy! Lack of sleep is associated with elevated cholesterol and blood pressure. Adults need at least seven but no more than nine hours of sleep at night to aid with the prevention of heart disease. Children need 10 to 12 hours of sleep per night. Develop bedtime routines for the whole family to assist with falling asleep faster and staying asleep.

2. Eat a banana: Or any food with potassium to help to lower your blood pressure. Potassium is found in vegetables and fruits, such as potatoes, beet greens, tomato juice and sauce, sweet potatoes, beans (white, lima, kidney) and bananas. Other sources of potassium include yogurt, clams, halibut, orange juice and milk.

3. LOL: Not via text or email, but really laugh out loud. Laughter helps relieve the stress that damages the tissue which forms the inner lining of blood vessels and helps your blood flow.

4: Take the scenic route home. Put down your phone and enjoy the ride. After all, we live in a beautiful and scenic county with plenty of back ways home.

5. Smile. Good dental hygiene does more than keep your pearly whites sparkling. It can affect your overall health. Research shows that several types of cardiovascular disease may be connected to oral health.

6. Brew a cup of tea. Studies show that drinking varieties of black and green tea can improve arterial health.

7. Find your happy place. A sunny outlook is good for your heart. Research from the University College London shows that those who are happy tend to have lower levels of the potentially harmful hormone cortisol and other stress-inducing chemicals.

8. Craft time. Grab the knitting needles, crochet hook or glue gun. Keeping your hands busy helps the mind to unwind, relieving stress, and does your ticker a world of good.

9. Go nuts. Almonds, walnuts, pecans and other tree nuts deliver a powerful punch for lowering your risk of cardiovascular and coronary heart disease. The American Heart Association suggests that substituting foods high in saturated fats with nuts helps reduce bad (LDL) cholesterol.

10. Play together. Spending time together as a family is a great way to reduce stress, which is important to heart health. Take the family out on the trails of Brown County State Park or go play together at the Y.

11. Pet your dog or cat. Our pets give us more than unconditional love. Studies show that having pets can lower the rate of dying from heart disease and may even improve heart and lung function.

12. Let your housework work for you. Normal housekeeping activities such as vacuuming or mopping may not be as invigorating as Zumba at the Y, but put on your favorite music to pep up weekly chores.

13. Eat breakfast. Don’t skip the first meal of the day. Eat whole grains, low-fat protein, fruits and vegetables.

Pick one of these tips you don’t do now and you are on your way. We are going to get more serious now, but you can still do this. Keep reading.

14. Stretch it out. Practicing yoga makes you more limber and helps you relax, lessening your stress.

15. Shape up those recipes. Reduce the amount of salt and saturated fat and substitute a lower fat food without sacrificing tastes. For example, use low-fat yogurt instead of sour cream. Skip the seasoning packet and use pepper and olive oil instead. Read food labels to learn more about what is in the package. Select foods that have less than 1,000 mg of sodium per serving. Slicing your fat intake to no more than 30 percent of daily calories will help cut your risk for heart disease.

16. Feeling the pressure. According to the American Heart Association, lowering or maintaining normal blood pressure can greatly reduce your risk for heart disease and stroke. Nearly 1 in 3 adults (about 78 million people) has high blood pressure and more than half of them don’t have it under control. Start self-monitoring your blood pressure and know the numbers. Discuss the results with you doctor if needed.

You have to admit, none of these strategies is impossible; they just take a commitment to change your lifestyle. If you are still with me, here are a few challenges that will take more serious effort, but they will pay off big time.

17. Walk if off. A good walk will do wonders for clearing your head and lowering stress levels. Include a brisk 10-minute trip around the block after meals or a 10-minute walking break during the day. Take a hike at Brown County State Park or walk the Salt Creek Trail.

18. Pump some iron. Aerobic activities may be the star players, but strength training needs to be part of the team. Its effect on weight control is awesome — more muscle mass means burning more calories.

19. No ifs, ands or butts: Stop smoking. This nasty habit is one of the top controllable risk factors for heart disease.

20. It’s all about the middle. Your middle, that is. According to the Journal of American College of Cardiology, carrying too much weight around your middle raises blood pressure, affects blood lipids and causes other damage to the heart. Ab workouts are good, but keep in mind it’s what you eat and how you exercise that will make a difference. If you can’t see your belt or your toes, it’s time to visit the doc. And remember. Better to hear the bad news now than have your friends hear the eulogy later.

February is a short month, but plenty of time is left to start a healthier year for your heart.

Kim Robinson
Kim Robinson

Kim Robinson is executive director of the Brown County Community YMCA.