Let’s start with the major theme for the month, the heart. February is Heart Month and statistics shows it deserves a whole month’s worth of attention. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), heart disease kills over 600,000 Americans each year, making it the leading cause of death for both men and women. Risk factors include smoking, lack of exercise and an unhealthy diet. These lead to even more serious risk factors like high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes. Despite these dismal details, there are actions anyone can take to fight cardiovascular disease. The following diet and lifestyle recommendations come from the American Heart Association (AHA).
- Get moving Not only does physical activity help people lose or maintain weight, it exercises the heart leading to cardiovascular fitness. Aim for 30 minutes most days of the week and make sure to feel that heart pumping to get the best of benefits. For those with high blood pressure, the AHA recommends 40 minutes of aerobic activity three to four times a week.
- Eat nutritious foods When grocery shopping, think nutrient-dense – pick foods rich in vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, healthy fats, proteins and whole grains. These foods nourish the body and most are naturally lower in calories. According to Harvard Health, some heart healthy nutrients to consider are the omega-3 fatty acids found in salmon to protect against stroke, soluble fiber in whole grain bread to help lower cholesterol and flavonoids in dark chocolate (over 70% cocoa), all of which are shown to improve blood flow to the brain and heart. And one can never go wrong by including more fruits and vegetables in his or her diet for a power punch of antioxidants.
- Eat less nutrient-poor foods Can anyone guess the foods in this category? Fried foods, junk foods, sugar-sweetened beverages – these foods are usually high in calories and low in nutrients. They contain the baddies that contribute directly to heart disease. Saturated fat and trans fat causes plaque buildup in the arteries leading to coronary artery disease. Excess sodium leads to high blood pressure. Excess sugar leads to weight gain and can lead to insulin resistance and Type 2 diabetes. Limit or eliminate these foods.
- Quit (or don’t start) smoking tobacco Also make sure to avoid second-hand smoke. It can’t be stressed enough the damage smoking does to the body. If the damage to the heart isn’t bad enough, the cancer surely must be. Do the heart a favor – seek help and quit smoking today.
Start with just one of these goals and don’t give up. Showing the heart some love will make sure the heart loves back for a long and healthy lifetime.