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Being Heart Healthy

February 18, 2011

By Sarah Heinzerling

This year for National Heart Health Month send yourself a valentine. Cardiovascular disease (CVD) is the #1 cause of death among both men and women. The good news?  There are some simple things you can do every day to decrease your risks.  Take charge of your health with American Heart Association’s (AHA) Life’s Simple Seven to a healthier you. Below you’ll learn about seven easy things you can do to live a heart healthy lifestyle.

1. Eat Better

Eating better is a simple shift we can make not only for ourselves but those who we live with. Making sure that we eat more vegetables, fruits, and whole grains in place of some of the foods that are high in sugar and fats is one step to eating healthier. Don’t treat all fat the same though, omega-3 fatty acids are necessary for our bodies to function properly. Salmon is an excellent example of this type of fat, as are walnuts, avocados, sardines and olive oil. Another way to eat better is to practice portion control. We can eat our mashed potatoes with butter and gravy if we keep our serving size down to ½ cup. Less mashed potatoes means less butter and gravy, which are usually laden with saturated fats.

2. Get Active

Regular exercise is a main component in reducing your risk factors for cardiovascular disease. By exercising you maintain healthy weight, lower LDL levels, raise HDL levels, and lower your blood pressure. All of which are important in lowering your risk for heart disease. The recommended amount of exercise from the American Heart Association is 150 minutes of moderate exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise each week. Though this seems like a lot, it can be accomplished in as little as 30 minutes five days a week. Walking is an excellent way to exercise. It’s easily accessible and cheap.

3. Control Cholesterol

The first two suggestions that help lower our risk for CVD also help us do a third thing that lower our risk, and that is managing our cholesterol.  Through diet, some foods can actually help lower our LDL (bad cholesterol) and raise our HDL (good cholesterol).  Another great way to affect your cholesterol in a positive way is through regular exercise. If you have to manage your cholesterol through medication, it is important to include a healthy diet. Medication management for cholesterol is not a free pass to eat whatever you want. In fact you are usually limited to a lesser amount of dietary cholesterol intake compared to someone not needing medications to manage their cholesterol.

4. Manage Blood Pressure

Manage your blood pressure. Start with knowing what your blood pressure is. Many people don’t know that blood pressure is known as the silent killer, or what kinds of risks are associated with it. Prescription medication may be necessary for some people, but other options are available to maintain healthy blood pressure. They include; heart healthy diet, maintaining healthy weight, exercise regularly, decrease intake of sodium, consume moderate amount of alcohol (recommended amounts for women is less than one drink a day and for men less than two drinks a day), avoid tobacco smoke and reduce stress levels. Notice a similar pattern?

5. Maintain a Healthy Weight

By maintaining a healthy weight through means of eating well balanced meals and snacks in moderation and exercising regularly you are already taking advantage of two of the ways you can reduce your risk of CVD. Maintaining a healthy weight is a simple step, but many of us struggle with it. Make small changes and stick to them. When they become habit and part of your normal day, move to another area you can make changes in. If we start with including more fruit in our diet each day, after a few weeks we can add more vegetables every day. Eventually if you follow this path you will be practicing a lifestyle that pays huge dividends in the investment of your health.

6. Keep Blood Sugars Under Control

If you’re diabetic it is important to keep your blood sugars under control. Having diabetes is a risk factor in itself for cardiovascular disease, being that diabetics are two to four times more likely to develop heart disease or stroke than a non-diabetic person. Managing your glucose can slow down the progression of potentially long term complications associated with diabetes. Many small changes can add up to significant improvements in diabetes control. They can include eating healthy, managing cholesterol levels, and exercising regularly.

7. Stop Smoking

Quitting tobacco smoking can cut your risk for artery disease in half in as little as one year, and after five years of living smoke free you body is able to repair damage to your arteries. Quitting smoking isn’t easy, but with a good plan and support system in place you have a better chance of succeeding. If you have tried before and haven’t been successful, keep trying. Evidence shows that the more you try to quit the more likely you will succeed in quitting

Having high risk factors such as; high blood pressure, high cholesterol, over weight and/or diabetes means it is even more important to manage your lifestyle to reduce your risk. These steps outlined by the American Heart Association as Life’s Simple Seven are available for everyone to take advantage of. When we make it part of our daily routine we tend to make it part of the routines of the people we live with, improving the heart health of those we love.

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