Happy Heart Month! If you’ve reached this blog, chances are great that you’re either struggling with severe obesity or have undergone bariatric surgery and wish to keep the weight off – forever. If you’ve ever visited a doctor about your weight-loss struggles, it is no surprise to you how important a healthy weight is for your heart. Obesity is a significant contributor to heart disease, which is still the number one killer of American men and women. Many patients say that they feel overwhelmed with where to start on the journey to a healthier heart, and especially for those who are severely overweight, intimidated by complicated options. Not to worry. The following are five heart-healthy goals that are attainable because you can easily-incorporate them into your daily life.

1. MOVE. Cardiovascular exercise and heart health are BFFs. The more you move, the better your heart feels. For those who are struggling with severe obesity, remember that ANY type of exercise is good for you. If walking is currently too painful on your joints, try some chair exercises. If you can walk, please do. Even if it is only for five minutes. When you make a routine out of it, you’ll be surprised at how much you’ll be able to increase your endurance in a very short amount of time. If you’re just starting out, make small, attainable goals. Once you’ve reached them, increase the difficulty level.

2. REDUCE STRESS. I know, it seems impossible. And you probably think that you can’t just wish away the demands of your daily life with a daily meditation on the beach. But stress is really bad for your heart and one of the most important things you can ABSOLUTELY control is how you talk to yourself. Not out loud. No, I’m talking about your inner voice. The one that’s always screaming things at you and making you feel bad. Reduce your stress by exercising your total control over that voice. Put it on mute. Or better yet, silence it forever with more positive talk. Start out with using that positive inner voice at least once a day. It may be a challenge at first. That voice may sound like only a whisper. But when you exercise it frequently, it will turn into your biggest cheerleading megaphone before you know it.

3. SLEEP. Most people don’t get enough of it. And if you’re overweight, accompanying conditions like sleep apnea or joint problems may prevent you from getting all the sleep you need. But you must try. Aim for six to eight hours each night. Help yourself accomplish this goal by removing those major sleep interrupters/inhibitors like your TV and cell phone. Just turn them off. Help yourself prepare for sleep each night with relaxation beforehand and a cool room temperature. In weight loss and heart-health, a good night’s sleep is crucial.

4. FOOD-SWAP. I dislike using the four-letter word (diet) as much as my patients hate hearing it. But what you eat is a key factor in how healthy your heart will be. So instead of clearing out your fridge and pantry overnight, aim for one important food-swap each week and STICK WITH IT! This week, perhaps try to exchange those diet sodas for iced tea or better yet, water. Next week, swap that bowl of cold, sugary cereal for heart-healthy oatmeal topped with blueberries. Start out small and build from there. The people who’ve been able to stick with a healthy diet don’t feel like they’re dieting. That’s because they started out small and incorporated every changed into their daily living.

5. GET HELP. Whether from your physician or your friends, support is vitally important when you’re trying to get healthy. If you haven’t been to a doctor in a while and know that you have health conditions that need to be addressed, please make an appointment. Likewise, if you want to begin a heart-healthy journey but don’t want to go it alone, enlist the help of a buddy. Whoever you choose, make sure that they’re a) supportive and b) tough enough that you can hold each other accountable to your goals.

Still need some help with where to start on your journey to a healthier heart? The American Heart Association has great tools – from stress reduction tips to customizable walking plans. With all of these resources at your fingertips, now there are really no excuses. Get started today. Your heart will thank you for it.