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February is Heart Health Month

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We usually think of February as the month we celebrate Valentine’s Day, complete with chocolate hearts and roses. But even more important than candy hearts, is the heart that beats in our chest. 

The heart is one of the most vital organs, it pumps blood throughout the body, and delivers oxygen to cells and removes waste products.  A healthy heart is key to overall health and cannot be overstated because more people die from heart disease than all forms of cancer combined.  Cardiovascular diseases are often called the silent killers because heart attacks and stroke are usually the common first warning signs of underlying disease. 

Genetics plays a role in cardiovascular disease, so it’s helpful to know your family history.  If your father or brother had coronary heart disease or a heart attack before the age of 55, or your mother or sister had coronary heart disease or a heart attack before the age of 65 that will put you at increased risk.  

There are other risk factors that are important as well.  High blood pressure and high cholesterol increase your risk as do medical conditions like pre-diabetes or diabetes.  Lifestyle choices have a big impact on cardiovascular disease risk too. These risks include smoking, excessive alcohol intake, being overweight or obese, having a poor diet, and a lack of physical activity.

The good news is that most heart disease is preventable.  Although you can’t change your age or family history you can make lifestyle modifications.  Here are some tips to help you decrease your risk and improve your wellbeing:

  1. Know your numbers. Have a yearly physical and check your total cholesterol, LDL, HDL, Triglycerides and Blood pressure.  In addition, have your fasting blood sugar checked to screen for pre-diabetes and diabetes.
  2. Adopt a healthy diet. Choose unprocessed foods, lean protein like chicken, fish, beans, and nuts.  Go for whole grains like brown rice, farro, and whole wheat couscous.  Select low fat dairy products and plenty of colorful fruits and vegetables, free of sauces or butter.
  3. Eat healthy fats. Monounsaturated fats found in olive oil, nuts, seeds, avocado, ground flax seed and chia seeds work to help reduce cholesterol and in particular, LDL, the bad cholesterol.
  4. Add Omega 3 fatty acids found in fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, anchovies, sardines and herring. You can also find omega 3’s in flaxseeds and chia seeds.
  5. Cut out sugar. Sugar causes inflammation in the body and increases triglycerides.
  6. Get moving! Aim to get regular exercise.  The American Heart Association and the American College of Sport Medicine recommend 150 minutes of moderate activity weekly.
  7. Maintain a healthy weight. If you are overweight, losing just 10% of your total body weight can improve your numbers for several risk factors like cholesterol, blood sugar and blood pressure
  8. Quit smoking and avoid second hand smoke.

Content submitted by Janyce Gately MS, RD, LDN, CHC