By Kelly Werthmann

(CBS4) – If you didn’t already know, February is American Heart Month. It encourages us to look at how we can better take care of our hearts, especially amid the stress the pandemic has brought into our lives. Certified health coach and regular CBSN Denver contributor Erica Ballard has a few “tried and true” tools to help decrease stress and increase heart health. One is daily movement — and that does not mean intense exercise.

“I don’t mean long HIIT (high-intensity interval training) workouts or long cardio workouts, that can actually work against us when we’re really stressed out,” she told CBSN Denver’s Kelly Werthmann. “When I say movement, I mean basic movement like walking, yoga, things of that nature.

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“The reason it’s so important, particularly for stress management, is that when we get stressed out our body pumps out cortisol and adrenaline and glucose because it’s preparing to move. Hence why it’s called the fight or flight response. So when we get up and move right when that stress is building, it gives us that glucose, that cortisol, that adrenaline, an outlet which then dissipates the stress response in the body.”

LINK: ericaballardhealth.com

Another stress reliever is meditation. Erica said it’s one of the best ways to manage stress, yet so few people act on this advice.

“Meditation teaches us how to stay calm in the most chaotic places on the planet — our minds,” she said. “I always like to tell people less is better. Meditating for 10 minutes is a really long time when you’re getting started. So consider meditating one, two, three, maybe 5 minutes a few times a week to get used to the practice.”

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A woman wearing a scary face mask clasps her hands in meditation at the conclusion of a morning yoga session on August 22, 2020 at the Red Rocks Amphiteatre in Morrison, Colorado.

(credit: Mark Makela/Getty Images)

Erica said guided meditations available on a variety of apps are also helpful for those new to meditation.

“There’s no need to be a hero – start where you are and allow yourself to build the muscle to medicate more regularly,” she said.

Also, if you’re looking to reduce stress give yourself “white space” throughout the day, Erica says. That means break away from our devices.

“We’re all on our devices all the time and when we’re on our devices all the time, our brain and body are on all the time,” Erica explained. “But our brain and body are not designed to be on all the time. They need a break.

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“What this looks like is walking without our phone or listening to music with our phone on the other side of the room. Creating that white space, even though it will feel like you’re doing nothing, you’re actually going to get a lot more done because you’re giving your brain and body time to be.”

Kelly Werthmann