5 Ways to FOCUS on Your Heart Health

5 Ways to FOCUS on Your Heart Health

by Julio Santiago, MD
Solvera Health – Galesburg Clinic

Throughout every stage of our lives, it’s important to focus on our heart health. Habits that are developed when we (or our children) are young can help our hearts stay strong throughout our lives.

But what does it actually mean to take care of our hearts?


I use the acronym FOCUS to help us remember five important ways we can help protect our heart from disease and damage: Find Out Core Uplifting Strategies to help both your heart health and your mental health.

    1. FIND five days of the week when you’re feeding good food to your body, as well as good thoughts to your mind.
      This will help improve your mental and physical health. I encourage my patients to find five good days when you’re exercising, eating good food, not smoking, moderating alcohol intake and making other healthy choices.
    2. Going OUT and about is another way to improve your physical and mental health.
      Get out of your chair and out of your home — and head to the gym, go for a walk, enjoy the fresh air, spend time with friends or enjoy some music. Not only is the movement good for your body, but social activities and exercise can boost oxytocin levels, so I include this in the “O” category. We often hear about the “love hormone” oxytocin as it relates to new moms — but we can all tap into oxytocin. Research has shown that when you elevate the oxytocin levels in your body, you’ll feel better. Although scientists have tried to manufacture oxytocin in a pill or nasal spray format, it can’t be replicated to produce the same results as natural oxytocin. After performing martial arts or singing as part of a group, saliva tests show elevated levels of oxytocin, demonstrating how our body creates it.
    3. Care for your CORE, which includes both your mind and body.
      We have two “hearts” that impact our well-being. First, we have our physical heart which is a muscle in our chest that pumps blood into the brain. But we also have an emotional “heart” that is located in the amygdala, which is the part of our brain responsible for emotions including love, happiness, sadness, motivation, fear and other feelings. Our emotional heart and muscular heart are interconnected and work together for our overall health. The mind affects the body and the body affects the mind.
    4. UPLIFT yourself by looking for things that make you feel positive, happy and upbeat.
      Seek out those people, places and things that uplift your mood and feed your mind. In addition to exercising regularly to uplift your physical status, it can also uplift your mental status. Feed your mind good ideas, which creates good thoughts, which creates good moods, which creates good behaviors. Conversely, bad thoughts lead to a bad mood and bad habits.
    5. STRATEGIES are the foundation of improving your well-being.
      It’s important to be systematic in your approach to taking good care of your mind and body. Create simple strategies that allow you to establish good habits and experience success. If you’re new to exercise, start out slowly but make it part of your routine. I always ask patients to give me half an hour. Spend just 30 minutes doing something (anything) to move those muscles and increase your oxytocin. Having a strategy for taking care of your heart health is essential.

Moderation Matters

The key word in heart health is moderation in your food choices, mental thoughts and physical activities.

It’s easy to get excited and set super big goals for yourself – like running a marathon — which can become discouraging if you’re not a runner. On the other hand, it’s easy to feel defeatist. What I mean by that is saying to yourself, “I didn’t exercise 5 times last week, so I’m going to give up.”

Give yourself some grace and forgiveness when you feel like you didn’t meet your goals. It’s okay to start over and try again — EVERY step forward (even if it’s small) is a step in the right direction. And I know you can do it!

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