The Effects of Sleep Deprivation on Your Health

Sleep is just as important as diet and exercise; and a lack of it can lead to accidents, unintentional injuries, and errors. Sleep impacts our health and well-being.  Acquiring the recommended amount of sleep can help one prevent the development of chronic conditions, and those with a chronic condition may be able to better manage it with enough sleep. 1

The Sleep Cycle

The sleep cycle plays a specific role in disease prevention and management.  During stages 3 & 4 the body begins to heal and repair itself.  Blood pressure decreases, blood sugar becomes regulated, tissue is repaired, muscles are built, and the immune system is strengthened. Getting enough of stages 3 & 4 helps to restore your body making you wake up feeling well rested.

The Domino Effect

Sleep deprivation influences our weight, heart health, blood sugar, and mental health. Being sleep deprived can make it hard to manage chronic conditions and causes a domino effect that can lead to chronic conditions.


A lack of sleep affects the hypothalamus which regulates appetite.  When sleep deprived, ghrelin (a hormone that induces hunger) is released in the body and leptin (a hormone that causes feelings of fullness) decreases. Sleep deprivation can also lead to an increase in endocannabinoids, which are substances produced by the body that make food pleasurable.

People who are sleep deprived eat twice as much fat and more than 300 additional calories compared to those who are not.2

Photograph by Steve Buisssinne from Pexels

Heart Health

As previously mentioned, during restorative sleep, your blood pressure decreases. A decrease in blood pressure puts less pressure on blood vessels. However, sleep deprivation causes blood pressure to remain high during long periods of time and can lead to coronary heart disease, heart failure, and stroke.3,4


Since blood sugar is regulated during stages 3 & 4 of sleep, a lack of sleep may lead to a decrease in the amount of insulin (the hormone that removes glucose out of the blood) in the blood stream and increases the amount of cortisol in the body.  The chances of developing type 2 diabetes become greater with sleep deprivation.5

Photograph by Gern Altmann from Pixabay

Depression and Anxiety

Depression and anxiety can lead to sleep deprivation and sleep deprivation can lead to depression and anxiety.  Those who wake frequently during the night are more likely to have clinical depression.  Having a sleep disorder like insomnia and sleep apnea can also impact mental health. Those with insomnia are:

-10 times more likely to have clinical depression

-17 times more likely to have clinical anxiety

While those with sleep apnea are 5 times more likely to suffer from clinical depression.6

Practicing sleep hygiene and relaxation techniques may help you get some much-needed rest. Below is a list of resources that include information on sleep hygiene and relaxation techniques.

Make sure to speak with your healthcare provider if you have trouble sleeping.


National Sleep Foundation. (n.d.). Sleep Hygiene. Retrieved from

University of Michigan. (2019). Stress Management: Breathing Exercises for Relaxation. Retrieved from

Dr. Andrew Weil. (2016). Three Breathing Exercises and Techniques. Retrieved from

Dartmouth University Wellness Center. (n.d.). Guided Audio Recordings. Retrieved from


Hirshkowitz, M. & The National Sleep Foundation. (2015). Sleep Health. Retrieved from

National Sleep Foundation. (2019). Obesity and Sleep. Retrieved from

American Heart Association. (2017). What is Cardiovascular Disease? Retrieved from

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2019). Heart Disease Facts. Retrieved from

National Sleep Foundation. (2019). The Link Between a Lack of Sleep and Type 2 Diabetes. Retrieved from

National Sleep Foundation. (n.d.). The Complex Relationship Between Sleep, Depression, & Anxiety. Retrieved from

National Sleep Foundation. (n.d.). The Complex Relationship Between Sleep, Depression, & Anxiety. Retrieved from

World Health Day 2020: A Big Thank You to All of the Nurses and Midwives

This past Tuesday marked the 72nd anniversary of World Health Day, honoring the work of nurses and midwives.

In my career, I have seen nurses and midwives support, educate, and advocate for families. They are on the front lines, catering to the needs of others, managing crises, and finding solutions. Putting the needs of others before their own. Sometimes overlooked and undervalued, they remain the heartbeat of healthcare and play a vital role in global health.

Stacey, Mama Gonsalva & Me Christmas 2010
Mama Gonsalva was the incredible CHW I worked with during my time in Nakahuga.

Nurses and midwives stand in the gap. When I lived in the village of Nakahuga, there were hundreds of villagers, but only one doctor. There were times when the doctor would be ill and nurses, midwives, and community health workers stepped in to help. Yes, it was part of their job, but they always seemed to go above and beyond to serve any and everyone. They would even visit the homes of those who were unable to trek the long distance from their home to the clinic.

During a conference I attended a few years ago, I met several nurses from all over the world who were making a difference in their own country, or countries other than their homeland. They were giving their all no matter what obstacles they were faced with. Listening to their stories amazed me.

Nurses and midwives are combating maternal and infant mortality, caring for the sick, consoling those who have lost, and educating others on disease prevention and management. They do it all.

Make sure you thank a healthcare worker for their selflessness and dedication, especially for risking their life to help others during these perilous times.

The Link Between Health and Education


April 6 – 12 is National Public Health Week. Each day of NPHW is marked by a theme, from Mental Health to Economics. Today’s theme is one close to my heart…Education.

I have been given the privilege to work with children from all walks of life. I have worked as a Teacher Assistant in Ward 8 of Washington, D.C., and I have also worked as a Substitute Teacher throughout a few counties in Maryland.

My experiences in education have always made me wonder what the world would be like if every child was given the same opportunity. If there was a level playing field, if certain systems were not in place, and if equity existed in education.

The first time I had this thought, I was subbing at a private school outside of D.C. Seeing how the children were being taught, the resources available to them, even seeing what they were served for lunch, brought tears to my eyes. I truly wish that all children could receive more than what is given to them. What would the outcome of some of my girls from Ward 8 be if they were given the same opportunities and their teachers were given the same resources?

When we think about education and different outcomes, we must ensure that we think about the link between education and health.

Colorado Consumer Health Initiative

Studies have shown that individuals with less education are, “more likely to experience obesity, substance abuse, and intentional and unintentional injuries,” while those with higher levels of education live longer and are able to access and understand health information to make informed decisions.1 

The education that a person receives, or their level of education, may impact their health in the long run. The higher the level of education someone receives, the more likely they are to have a better job, and a better job may mean having access to better healthcare.2

There is another side to this story. Some children miss school and are chronically absent because of their health, unrecognized or untreated health conditions, and/or a lack of access to care, putting them at a disadvantage if they are unable to catch up.3,4

One of my students would be hospitalized for days at a time because of asthma flareups. Thankfully, her mother would come to the school to get her homework and asked questions about what was being taught.

In another situation, when I was a volunteer in Ghana, a student missed one week of school because of a large gash on her knee she received after falling. Afraid that the wound would become infected, the student’s mother made the decision to keep her daughter home from school. She was also able to keep up with her peers once she returned. However, not every student is able to bounce back after missing a few days of school.

Both education and health impact each other. This post focuses on health and education, but other factors such as environment and safety, social norms, economics, and language are a few social determinants that are equally important.

There is no cookie cutter solution to deal with the inequalities that many are faced with, regardless of age; impacting their access to adequate healthcare and health information, as well as access to an education system that is fair across the board. But, each of us can use our gifts, our talents, and our voices to help those in need and to advocate for justice for those who are underserved.


[1]. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2018). Health Disparities.

[2]. Baum, S., Ma, J., Payea, K. (2013). Education Pays 2013: The Benefits of Higher Education for Individuals and Society. College Board.

[3]. American Academy of Pediatrics. (2019). School Attendance, Truancy & Chronic Absenteeism: What Parents Need to Know.                                                             

[4]. Allison, M., Attisha, E., & Council On School Health. (2019). The Link Between School Attendance and Good Health. Pediatrics, 143(2).

Strengthening Your Immune System through Diet, Exercise, Sleep and Stress Management

Every day the body is exposed to invaders ready to wreak havoc on our health.  Taking preventative measures may help protect the immune system from being compromised; strengthening your internal defense system.


Your diet is one of the most important lines of defense.  Vitamins, minerals, and even protein play a vital role in protecting and strengthening your immune system.

Vitamins and Minerals

Although vitamins and minerals are micronutrients (see Nutrition: Getting Back to the Basics), they can aid the body in preventing disease and infection.

The Food and Drug Administration has a list of vitamins and minerals that includes food sources and the recommended Daily Value.


Protein helps the body to fight infections and repairs body tissue.


Image by Dorthy Castillo

Exercise defends the immune system by:

  • Improving immune system regulation
  • Improving defense activity
  • Acting as anti-inflammatory
  • Increasing blood flow and oxygen throughout the body

Try to do a combination of exercises (aerobics, strength training, stretching, and balancing) at least 30-minutes a day most days of the week.


During sleep stages 3 & 4, your body begins to heal and repair itself.  Your immune system may be weakened and compromised if you are not spending enough time in those two stages.  During sleep, cytokines (a type of protein) are released to protect the body from infection and inflammation.

Image by Andrea Piacquadio

Speak with your doctor if you are having trouble sleeping and learn about sleep hygiene.

Stress Management

What happens to some people when they are stressed? They may stress eat, avoid exercising, and have trouble sleeping.  Stress also releases hormones like cortisol and adrenaline that can harm your body if they are in your system for long periods of time due to chronic stress. Stress is inevitable, but it is possible to manage through practice.

Quick stress-relief tips:

  • Speak with a doctor, counselor, and/or someone you trust
  • Focus on those things you have control over
  • Know your stress triggers and ways to manage them
  • Seek resources for financial help
  • Use short-term distractions
  • Deal with the root issue
  • Exercise
  • Eat a balanced diet
  • Practice sleep hygiene
  • Set boundaries
  • Practice deep breathing exercises
  • Set aside at least 5 – 10 minutes for yourself

In addition to sleep, exercise, diet, and stress management, make sure you wash your hands and avoid touching your face as much as possible.


[1]. Klemm. S. (2020). Support Your Health With Nutrition.

[2]. Myers, A. (2020). What You Need to Know About Vitamin D and Its Impact on Your Immune System.

[3]. Food and Drug Administration. (2020). Vitamins and Minerals.

[4]. Ware, M. & Olsen, N. (2018). How can antioxidants benefit our health?

[5]. Cleveland Clinic. (2020). 3 Vitamins That Are Best for Boosting Your Immunity.

[6]. Hoffman, P. & Berry, M. (2008). The influence of selenium on immune responses. Mol Nutr Food Res. 52(11): 1273-1280.

[7]. Nieman, D. & Wentz, L. (2019). The compelling link between physical activity and the body’s defense system. Journal of Sport and Health Science. Vol 8(3): 201-217.

[8]. Sleep Foundation. (n.d.). How Sleep Affects Your Immunity.

[9]. American Psychological Association. (2006). Stress Weakens the Immune System.

[10]. Morey, J., Boggero, I., Scott, B., & Segerstrom, C. (2016). Current Directions in Stress and Human Immune Function. Curr Opin Psychol. 5: 13-17.

From the Food Pyramid to MyPlate

Every 10 years, the United States Department of Agriculture updates food recommendations based on current research findings. In 2011, we moved away from the Food Pyramid and began using MyPlate.


MyPlate is broken down into five food categories (Fruits, Vegetables, Grains, Protein, and Dairy), and gives us an easier, color coded description of what we should eat.

Note: The MyPlate amounts below are based on a 2,000 calorie diet. Consult with a doctor about your recommended calorie intake.

Fruits are color coded red, and the recommend amount is to consume 2 cups of fruits a day. However, the amount of fruit someone consumes may differ based on their health.

Vegetables are represented by the color green. Other plates may differentiate between starchy (e.g., peas, corn, potatoes, and winter squash) and non-starchy vegetables (e.g., greens, broccoli, cucumber, peppers, and cauliflower), but MyPlate does not. The recommended amount of vegetables per day is 2 ½ cups.

Grains are in the dark orange group and it’s best to consume 6 ounces of whole grains (whole grain pasta, breads, brown rice, and oatmeal) instead of white breads, pasta, and rice.  If it is not a whole grain, you may miss out on consuming enough fiber and your blood sugar may be impacted.

Protein is represented by purple and the recommended amount per day is 5 ½ ounces.  Lean meat, poultry, seafood, eggs, tofu, and beans and lentils are a few sources of protein. 

Dairy, which is color coded blue, is not included on the plate, but is directly next to it. The recommendation is 3 cups of low-fat or fat free dairy each day. 

Although MyPlate is the USDA recommended plate, there are other plates that people may use based on their diet.

Healthy Eating Plate

The Healthy Eating Plate is like MyPlate except that it highlights using healthy oils and promotes drinking water and limiting milk/dairy to 1-2 servings per day and juice to 1 small glass a day.

The Diabetes Portion Plate

The Diabetes Portion Plate is drastically different from MyPlate.  With the Diabetes Portion Plate, users are encouraged to include non-starchy vegetables on half of their plate, ¼ of their plate with whole-grains or starchy vegetables, and ¼ of their plate with protein.  Non-fat or low-fat dairy and a piece of fruit, or ½ cup of fruit salad, are included in the diet, but they are not the primary focus.                

What do all of the plates have in common? Portion control.  Portions are similar across the board whether using MyPlate, the Healthy Eating Plate, or the Diabetes Plate.

Rough guideline since hand sizes vary

Everyone is different, so consult your doctor about your calorie needs based on your health, age, and activity level. 


[1]. United States Department of Agriculture. (n.d.). Your MyPlate Plan.

[2]. Harvard Health. (2011). Harvard to USDA: Check out the Healthy Eating Plate.

[3]. Hamilton, L. (2015). How to Create Your Plate. Diabetes Forecast.

The Essentials of Water

A glass of water macro shot

Soothing, refreshing, replenishing; making up about 60% of the body, water is an essential nutrient that plays an important role in your health.

What impact does water have on the body?

  • Regulates blood pressure and body temperature
  • Lubricates joints
  • Protects the brain
  • Promotes healthy skin
  • Removes waste from the body
  • Aids in digestion

You may have heard that the recommend amount of water is eight 8 ounces, but age, activity level, and your health should also be taken into consideration. According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, women should drink about 9 cups per day and men 12.5 cups.

Urology specialist of the Carolinas urine color guide

Dehydration occurs when fluid your body loses is not replaced. Signs of dehydration include:

  • Dark colored urine
  • Headache
  • Dry mouth
  • Fatigue
  • Dizziness
  • Dry Skin

Here are a few tips to increase your water intake.

  • Carry a bottle of water with you
  • Drink a glass of water when you wake up
  • Drink a glass of water with your medicine unless otherwise specified
  • Track how much water your consume
  • Order water instead of soda
  • Drink small 8 ounce bottles if consuming larger sized bottles is overwhelming
  • Have a glass of water before getting seconds
  • Flavor your water with fruits
  • Have a glass of water after using the restroom
  • Drink water before, during, and after exercising
  • Include water rich foods in your diet like watermelon, celery, strawberries, cucumbers, cantaloupe, grapefruit, lettuce, zucchini, tomatoes, and bell peppers


Gordon, B. (2020). How Much Water Do You Need. Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

Nutrition: Getting Back to the Basics

In a culture where we get caught up in the latest trends and diets, it’s important to know what the basics are when it comes to nutrition.

There are several terms floating around in the world of nutrition, and to some, it may seem confusing or even overwhelming. But no worries, here is a simple breakdown of what some of those terms are and additional information that you should know.


What is a nutrient? A nutrient is simply a substance that our body needs to function properly.  While the body naturally produces a small amount of some nutrients, most of the nutrients we receive are from what we eat and drink.

There are seven essential nutrients: water, fiber, vitamins, minerals, carbohydrates, fats, and protein. Water, fiber, fats, carbohydrates, and protein are often referred to as macronutrients.1 They are called macronutrients because the body needs large amounts of them.  Vitamins and minerals are also important, but because they are only needed in small amounts, they are called micronutrients. Whether it’s a macro- or micronutrient, each is essential for your health and wellbeing. 


Water serves several functions.  In addition to keeping the body hydrated, it lubricates joints, flushes waste from the body, helps dissolve vitamins and minerals, and regulates body temperature.2 Not only can you drink water, but it’s also found in many fruits and vegetables (e.g., celery, melons, and spinach). The recommended amount of water varies, but women should drink about 9 cups, and men 12.5 cups a day. 3


Some people hear and see the word but have no idea what it is and what purpose it serves. Fiber is a type of carbohydrate that plays an important role in your digestive and heart health.

Soluble and insoluble are two types of fiber. Soluble fiber dissolves in water and helps to lower blood cholesterol and is found in foods like oatmeal, beans, apples, lentils, strawberries and nuts.

Insoluble fiber helps to prevent constipation by moving food through your digestive system.  Insoluble fiber doesn’t dissolve in water and includes foods like whole wheat breads, carrots, whole-grain cereal, and brown rice.

While fiber isn’t found in meat, many types of foods contain both types of fiber. The recommended amount of fiber is 20 – 30 grams per day.4

Vitamins & Minerals

Vitamins have several functions.  They help with growth and development, metabolism, nerve function, and defends the body from disease.

Minerals can prevent cell damage, regulate muscle and nerve damage, support cell growth, and protects the immune system.

Several vitamins and minerals rely on each other so that the body can function. The National Institutes of Health’s Office of Dietary Supplements has a complete list of vitamins and minerals.


Carbohydrates (sugar, fiber, and starches) are broken down into glucose to give your body energy. Think of your body as a car. The food you eat breaks down into glucose and gives your body fuel so that your body can work properly; and just as it is important that a car needs the correct gas for a car to run, your body needs certain types of carbs, healthy carbs, to function properly.

There are two types of carbs, simple and complex. Simple carbs break down into glucose fast and can cause a spike in blood sugar for people with diabetes.5 Sugar naturally occurring in fruit (fructose) and milk (lactose) are simple carbs.  Other simple carbohydrates include white rice, white bread, honey, candy, and sodas.

Compared to simple carbs, complex carbs breakdown into glucose at a slower rate. Whole grains, oats, vegetables, beans and legumes are examples of foods that provide complex carbs.


The word fat usually has negative associations.  However, fat promotes cell growth, helps the body absorb nutrients, and helps produce hormones.

Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats are the “healthier fats” that are liquid in room temperature and consists of foods like nuts and seeds, fish, and avocado.  These are the types of fats that may help lower cholesterol, but they should be eaten in moderation.6

American Heart Association

Saturated fats are solid in room temperature (e.g., coconut oil and palm oil) and is in processed food, cheese, and meat. A diet high in saturated fat increases your risk of heart disease and high cholesterol.

Trans fats occur naturally in some animals in small amounts.  They are also created and added to products to extend the shelf life of some foods.  The FDA is working to remove artificial trans fats from foods.


Known as the “building blocks of life,” protein is needed for cell tissue growth, creates some hormones, supports the immune system, and is used to send messages between cells. 

Protein is also a source of energy and is found in meats, eggs, dairy, beans and legumes, soy, and in low amounts in vegetables.7 

There is a lot of information out there, so do your research and make choices based on your dietary needs.


[1]. United States Department of Agriculture. (n.d.) Macronutrients.

[2]. Mayo Clinic. (2018). Water: Essential to your body.

[3]. Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. (2020). How Much Water Do You Need.

[4]. The Nutrition Source. (n.d.). Fiber.

[5]. American Heart Association. (2018). Carbohydrates.

[6]. American Heart Association. (2014). Dietary Fats.

[7]. United States Department of Agriculture. (n.d.). All about the Protein Foods Group.

Myths and Facts of Heart Attacks

Just imagine…You’re sitting in a movie theater fighting the nausea and indigestion you’ve been feeling all day.  Then you breakout into a cold sweat and begin having abdominal pain.  Thinking you have food poisoning, your friend rushes you to the hospital, but that is when you find out you’re having a heart attack. You wonder how that’s possible. You didn’t feel a sharp pain in your chest or strange sensations in your arms like you heard others having.

Heart attacks – There’s a ton of information out there, but what exactly is myth and what is fact? Here are 10 common heart attack myths and facts:

Myth #1: Heart attack symptoms are the same for everyone.

Fact: Heart attack symptoms are not the same for everyone.  In fact, men and women may even experience different heart attack symptoms. Common heart attack symptoms include

  • Pain or pressure in the chest
  • Jaw, neck, arm, shoulder or back pain
  • Shortness of breath

Women are more likely to experience nausea/vomiting, shortness of breath, and back and/or jaw pain. 1

Myth #2: Heart attack symptoms are always sudden.

Fact: Heart attack signs and symptoms may appear days or weeks before a heart attack occurs. A common warning sign is experiencing pain or pressure in your chest caused by a decrease of blood reaching the heart. 2

Myth #3: Only older adults have heart attacks.

Fact: Heart attacks are occurring more in younger people, especially among young women. 3

Myth #4: You’ll have a heart attack if someone in your family does.

Fact: Because of your family history, you may be at risk of developing heart disease. However, taking preventative steps can help reduce your risk of heart disease and heart attack. 4

Myth #5: Wait for your symptoms to get worse before calling 9-11.

Fact: Don’t wait. The longer you wait, the greater the damage to your heart.  Waiting can be fatal. 5

Myth #6: Men are more likely to die after a heart attack.

Fact: Compared to men, women are more likely to die from a heart attack. This could be due to being misdiagnosed, waiting longer to seek treatment, and not receiving the appropriate diagnostic tests and treatment. 6,7

Myth #7: A second heart attack will feel the same as the first.

Fact: Repeat heart attacks don’t always feel the same.  Some people who have repeat heart attacks report feeling different symptoms from their first heart attack. 8

Myth #8: All chest pain equals a heart attack.

Fact: Angina is a common type of chest pain that happens when blood isn’t reaching your heart. There are two types of angina, stable and unstable.  Stable angina occurs when performing an activity or when under stress. Unstable angina can occur even while resting. Angina is different from a heart attack as it does not permanently damage the heart muscle. 9

Myth #9: You can’t exercise after having a heart attack.

Fact: Exercise can improve your heart health even after a heart attack. Once your doctor clears you for exercise, you can slowly begin an exercise plan. 10

Myth #10: Everyone knows when they’re having a heart attack.

Fact: It is possible to have a heart attack without knowing. Silent heart attacks have a different intensity than a classic heart attack and occurs with little to no symptoms.11

Dispel the myths. Do your research and speak with your doctor about your heart health concerns.


[1]. American Heart Association. (2016). Warning Signs of a Heart Attack.  

[2]. Mayo Clinic. (2018). Heart Attack.

[3]. American Heart Association. (2018). Heart attacks are becoming more common in younger people, especially women.

[4]. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2020). Prevent Heart Disease.  

[5]. American Heart Association. (2015). Heart Attack or Sudden Cardiac Arrest: How Are They Different?

[6]. Alabas, O. A., Gale, C. P., Hall, M., Rutherford, M. J., Szummer, K., Lawesson, S. S., Jernberg, T. (2017). Sex Differences in Treatments, Relative Survival, and Excess Mortality Following Acute Myocardial Infarction: National Cohort Study Using the SWEDEHEART Registry. Journal of the American Heart Association, 6(12). doi:10.1161/jaha.117.007123

[7]. American College of Cardiology. (2015). Women Don’t Get to Hospital Fast Enough During Heart Attack.

[8]. American College of Cardiology. (2016). Heart Attack.

[9]. American Heart Association. (2016). About Heart Attacks.

[10]. Cleveland Clinic. (n.d.). Exercise and Activity After a Heart Attack.

[11]. American Heart Association Go Red for Women. (n.d.). What is a Silent Heart Attack?

For the Love of Your Heart

This February marks the 56th anniversary of American Heart Month.  With heart disease being the leading cause of death in America, and the leading cause of death in the world, it’s important that people in America receive heart health education.1, 2

Exactly what is heart disease? Heart disease, or cardiovascular disease, is a group of conditions that affect your heart health. Having narrow or blocked blood vessels are two common causes of heart disease. When there is a buildup of plaque (a mix of cholesterol, calcium, fat and other substances) in your blood vessels and/or a blockage, it makes it hard for blood and oxygen to move throughout your body so that it can function properly.  Now heart disease isn’t the disease itself but covers a range of diseases like coronary artery disease, arrhythmia, heart failure, and cardiomyopathy.

Build up of plaque in blood vessel

Whether you want to take steps to prevent heart disease or you want to maintain your health, there are several risk factors that play a role in your heart health; factors you have control over and others you do not.  Family history, age, sex, and race are factors that are outside of your control. However, there are many heart disease risk factors that you do have control over including:

  • Diet and sodium intake
  • Weight
  • Physical activity
  • Alcohol intake
  • Tobacco use
  • Sleep habits 
  • Stress management

So, what are some steps you can take to prevent/manage your heart health?

  • Limit your sodium intake. We need sodium to help control our blood pressure and even contract our muscles, but too much of a good thing can be bad. Having a lot of sodium in your body increases blood flow and causes a constant high-pressured force of blood against the walls of your blood vessels causing damage. For someone who has high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, or any other health condition, the daily limit of salt is 1,500 mg, that’s a little over ½ a teaspoon of salt. For those without a chronic condition, the daily limit is 2,300 mg.3
  • Be physically active. The Department of Health and Human Services recommends adults perform at least 150 minutes (2 hours and 30 minutes) of moderate-intensity, or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity, of aerobic physical activity each week. Don’t feel overwhelmed! You can break your physical activity up throughout the day. 4
  • Shed the pounds.  Having extra weight on your frame may cause your heart to work harder. Research has shown that losing five to 10 pounds can improve your blood pressure. 5
  • Limit your alcohol consumption.  Alcohol temporarily increases blood pressure after one drink, but consistently drinking over time leads to high blood pressure (hypertension). It is recommended that men limit their alcohol intake to 2 drinks per day and women to 1 drink per day. 6
  • Quit smoking. It’s easier said than done, but it is possible.  Twenty minutes after you quit smoking your blood pressure drops, and your risk of coronary heart disease and heart attack decreases after 1 year of quitting. is a resource for those looking for support.7
  • Get some sleep, restorative sleep.  There are five stages in the sleep cycle and stages 3 and 4 are two of the most important.  During those two stages, your body begins to repair itself and your blood pressure decreases.  Practicing sleep hygiene may help improve your quality and quantity of sleep.
  • Manage your stress.  Learning how to manage stress can improve your heart health.  Chronic stress can lead to overeating, less sleep, and a decrease in physical activity. Think about what your stress triggers are and healthy activities you can do to relieve stress.  Also learn what you do and do not have control over. 8
  • Know your numbers. Keeping track of your blood pressure, cholesterol, A1C (average blood sugar number over 2 – 3 months), and weight can help you gauge if your numbers fall within a healthy range.
Note: The target fasting blood sugar range for a diabetic is 80 – 130 mg/dL and less than 180 mg/dL two hours after a meal (American Diabetes Association, 2020).

Practice self-love this Valentine’s Day, and every day of the year, for the love of your heart.


[1]. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2019). Heart Disease Facts .

[2]. American Heart Association. (2015). Heart Disease and Stroke Statistics – At-a-Glance.

[3]. American Heart Association. (2018). How much sodium should I eat per day?

[4]. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2019). Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans.

[5]. American Heart Association. (2016). Managing Weight to Control High Blood Pressure.

[6]. American Heart Association. (2016). Limiting Alcohol to Manage High Blood Pressure.

[7]. American Cancer Society. (2018). Benefits of Quitting Smoking Over Time.

[8]. Johns Hopkins Medicine. (n.d.). Risk Factors for Heart Disease: Don’t Underestimate Stress.

Welcome to The World of Public Health

Hi there, and welcome to The World of Public Health. I’m Tonja Rice, a Certified Health Education Specialist who is passionate about serving and educating others.

How it all began…

My experience in the public health field has been quite a journey to say the least. During my final year in undergrad at UMBC, two of my professors advised me to look into public health. I had no idea what public health was, but after doing some research, I realized it was a step in the right direction.

I began looking into graduate programs. However, I wanted to become a Peace Corps Volunteer. Becoming a Peace Corps Volunteer isn’t a process that happens overnight, and I wanted to spend one month abroad to make sure I really wanted to do a two-year Peace Corps stint. I literally was going to quit my full-time job so that I could spend a month in Ghana, but my Manager said I wouldn’t need to.

I was nervous, excited, and in awe as the plane landed in Accra. Being there was an eye opening experience. I was grateful for the opportunity to serve as an English/Health Teacher; and for the very first time, I felt free.

Three months after I returned home from Ghana, it was time for me to pack my bags and move to Tanzania. Living in a village, finding out how I could be of service to those around me, learning about other people, teaching, just being there continually changed my perspective and outlook on life.

Although I had to return home after 10 months, my time in Tanzania cemented that I wanted to work with women and children, that I wanted to be a Health Educator, and that I’m not only to serve in my own backyard in America, but across the globe. It cemented my purpose.

Since then, my goal has been to provide health education services to as many people as possible. In my career as a Health Educator, I have provided education to over 500 people, developed and co-developed health programs and workshops domestically and in Tanzania, spearheaded community health events, and even worked as an HIV Testing Counselor.

I am now in a new phase of my career, and would like to use this blog as an outlet to educate others about various public health topics. I hope you will take this journey with me. Questions or comments? Feel free to contact me at