February is American Heart Month and cardiovascular disease (including strokes) is the Nation's number one killer. Here are 5 movements you can do to achieve a much healthier heart.  

1. Relax your hands - Relaxing your hands is one of the best things that you can do for your heart!  Stress, balance and learned behaviors leave your hands in a fixed position. 

  • Sit at your desk or lay on your bed with a number two pencil at the finger tips of your right hand (You can do this without a pencil or you can visualize this if your hand is injured). By only doing this with one hand at a time, this will give your brain the opportunity to learn how each hand is different and how they can learn to improve from one another. With the tips of your fingers, gently roll the pencil back and forth a small distance. Notice if you are contracting the muscles in your shoulder, arm or your hand. Notice if you can roll the pencil and continue a gentle breathe or is your breathing labored. Just concentrate on small gentle movements of your fingers. Then rest. Do this movement again, gently rolling the pencil with the pads of your four fingers. After a few times, rest. Now do this movement with each finger separately. Notice again, is this harder or easier than with all four fingers? Is your shoulder or arm contracting? Can you do this with the least amount of muscle effort?
  • After you do all four fingers separately, rest. Notices the muscles in your hand and arm. Notice your breathing. Are you relaxed? This is a great Movement Lesson to do before going to bed.  

2. Drop your shoulders - Having a cell phone in our ear for hours at a time tends to rise your shoulders up and we forget to bring them back down. Carrying your shoulders around is equivalent to carrying a backpack around with us for hours.   

  • We are the only species that believes in stretching. Every other animal on the planet actually contracts. It's the best thing that you can do. As you sit or stand, tighten all the muscles that you can. Fist your hands, contract your shoulders to your ears, tighten your jaw and stomach muscles. Hold for just a few seconds and then relax. Notice how everything drops. What happens to a rubber band when you stretch it - it breaks or snaps back. By contracting your muscles, your actually going 'tighter' of how you actually are during a work day or during a stressful situation. When your brain has options of how to move, it will chose the easiest more efficient position.

3. Reduce the tension in your face - Not only does this age your face but it ages your heart. The face is an obvious place to look to see how your body's doing. Taking a few minutes out of your day to notice tension and fatigue helps the rest of your body realize the same.  

  • Drop your jaw and leave your mouth in an open position. Very gently put your hands on your jaw. Slowly lower your head to your jaw then slowly raise your head away from the jaw for an open mouth. Continue to do this gentle, slow movement until it gets easy. We are all used to the jaw coming to the skull not the skull working around the jaw. For some this might be very difficult. Just slow down and slowly lower your head to the lower jaw and open again. After you do that for several time, place your hands on your lap and rest. Notice how easy the tension has left your face.

4. Move with awareness - We get the kids to school, go to work, pay the bills, shop and fix dinner. The week is gone before we know it.  Take a moment to pay attention to yourself, whether driving in the car or shopping at the supermarket, notice how you are moving, breathing even thinking. Take a step back and notice yourself. Is there something that you could be doing that is better or different?

Balance is key. We are all told to have balance in our lives between the stresses that can generate from work and our private lives. What about the balance from your feet on up? Did you know that blood pressure typically rises as your ability to balance starts to decline?

Let's look at the way that you are walking. The reason that walking is so good for your heart is to keep your balance at an optimal skill level.

  • Do you take a nice long stride or gait when you walk? You are able to up and down stairs. You are also able to balance on one foot so you can still put your clothes on while standing.
  • Do you take a short step? You can't naturally balance on one foot. Climbing stairs is starting to get labored. You might still be able to stand while you dress but you need to hold onto the wall or a chair when lifting a leg.
  • Do you shuffle? This is no longer considered walking. You can't walk backwards. You need assistance or you need to stop and think about going up and down stairs. You can no longer stand and dress yourself without true risk of falling.

Walking costs nothing other than having a good pair of shoes and time. If you don't have time, park a little farther away when you go to a store. Don't use a drive thru, get out of your car to grab a bit or going to an ATM. Maybe this will be incentives for your fast food choices in your life - which is also good for your heart.

5. Work your feet - After we learn to walk and run, we do nothing to improve our most important part of our body, our feet.  Poor and unhealthy feet are a reflection of your heart. Taking a few minutes at the end of your day to work your feet (or your partners) and enhancing movement, not only helps you sleep but get around better tomorrow.

  • There is nothing better than a warm foot soak with good old-fashioned Epson salts. With the amount of hours that we watch TV there can be a half-hour to soak then rub lotion on your feet. If you have trouble reaching your feet, then add coconut oil to the warm water and you'll get the benefit of both in the warm water. If you have young children, especially girls then start a group foot rub night. Babies on up appreciate having their feet massaged. Adding a pedicure adds fun to the evening.
  • Take a look at your shoes. If your shoes compromise your balance or give your an insecure or painful walking surface, this adds to heart function. Give your feet and heart a break with some time in a good tie shoe.

Remember, your feet and your heart are tell tales signs of your life. I work on too many people of age that suffer from chronic foot problems, such as bunions, bent toes and/or arthritis. I can't even imagine the shape and capacity of their heart function.

Heart Month