Did you know February is Healthy Heart month?
With Valentine’s Day mid-month, we are surrounded by images of hearts, candy hearts, chocolate hearts and messages of love. There’s no better time to bring awareness to our own heart and how to keep it healthy so we can be with our loved ones for years to come.
According to the CDC, About 610,000 people die of heart disease in the United States every year. That makes heart disease the leading cause of death for both men and women. Some risk factors for heart disease include genetics, sex (men are at higher risk than women), diet, smoking and stress.
We can’t do anything about genetics, but lifestyle changes that reduce the risk of heart disease are within our control. Here are some ways we can improve our heart health through diet and exercise.
- Stick to a healthy diet. Obesity, diabetes, high cholesterol and high blood pressure put us at a higher risk for heart disease. The foods we eat, and how much, affects these risk factors. Choose fresh, nutrient-rich fruits and vegetables over processed foods. A healthy diet should also include whole grains, lean meats, fish, poultry and low-fat dairy products. Foods high in saturated fats can clog your arteries. Also, limit your intake of sweets and sugary drinks.
- Exercise daily. Moderate exercise for at least 30 minutes per day will help you burn calories and maintain a healthy weight. Regular physical activity, even just a few minutes at a time, can lower blood pressure. Exercise also helps to reduce stress levels which can directly affect a person’s risk factor for heart disease.
- Stop smoking and limit alcohol. After just one year smoke-free, you can reduce your risk of heart disease by 50 percent. As an added bonus, your fitness level may also improve due to increased lung capacity. The American Heart Association cautions people to NOT start drinking alcohol, if they don’t already. Drinking more than one to two alcoholic drinks per day can raise the levels of triglycerides, can increase calorie intake (which can lead to obesity) and may lead to high blood pressure. If you drink, drink in moderation.
Love your heart. It is never too late to make a change to your diet and/or exercise program. If you are not sure where to begin, seek guidance from your physician or a nutrition/fitness professional. Your healthy heart will thank you.
Angela Fulgieri is the Wellness Experience Director at the Plant City YMCA. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.