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Healthy Living: American Heart Month

If you were to ask anyone what cause I’m most passionate about, they would answer, “The prevention of heart disease.” As a teenager, my father had a heart attack and quadruple bypass surgery at 39-years-old. Over the past 10 years I have watched the devastating effects of this disease. I have been fortunate enough to learn to enjoy the good days and not take your loved one for granted. I feel very fortunate to still have my father and know pretty early in life what I need to do to prevent heart disease.

Heart disease is currently the number one killer in both men and women in the United States. There are 2,200 deaths per day from heart disease and stroke. February is American Heart Month, and I encourage you to take the time to learn your risks for heart disease and factors that will help prevent this disease from developing.  Below are 10 tips to help you prevent heart disease.

1. Stop smoking.
We all know smoking is bad. Ask a little kid, they will quickly tell you smoking is bad. Your risk for heart disease and stroke is doubled, if not quadrupled, just by smoking. How, you ask? Nicotine increases your heart rate and blood pressure. Carbon monoxide and tobacco steal oxygen from your heart, brain and arties. Smoking causes damage to your blood vessels making your blood sticky. Smoking decreases your HDL, good cholesterol that helps remove bad cholesterol. Stop smoking, and you can reduce your risk by half within a year.

2. Exercise. The American Heart Association recommends at least 150 minutes a week of moderate exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise. That is about 30 minutes a day, five days a week. Those 30 minutes could be a walk in the morning, at your lunch break, or two 15- minute walks during your break.3. Maintain a healthy weight. Carrying around extra weight makes your heart work harder. Having extra fat around your waist can increase your risk of developing high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, heart disease and stroke. It’s important if you’re overweight or obese to lose those extra pounds by monitoring calories in versus calories out.

4. Get regular health screenings. Heart disease is a silent killer. You may not know you have heart disease until it’s too late. Talk to your doctor about getting your blood pressure, cholesterol and blood glucose checked.

5. Increase your fruit and vegetable intake. Fruits and vegetables are packed with vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and fiber. Most fruits and vegetables are low in calories, saturated fat and cholesterol.

6. Eat fish twice a week. Fish is a good source of protein and omega-3 fatty acids. Research shows omega-3 fatty acids can reduce the risk of abnormal heartbeat, decrease triglycerides, slow down the growth of plaque, and lower blood pressure.  Fish high in omega-3 fatty acids are salmon, mackerel and albacore tuna.

7. Skip the salt. A diet high in salty foods can increase your risk of high blood pressure. The American Heart Association recommends consuming less than 1,500 milligrams of sodium per a day. Ways to reduce your sodium intake are to remove the saltshaker from the table, buy fresh food, and look for reduced sodium products.

8. Watch out for saturated fat and trans fat. A diet high in saturated fat and trans fat can raise your blood cholesterol.  Replacing saturated fats and trans fats with monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats can help lower your cholesterol. The American Heart Association recommends limiting your total fat intake to 25 to 35% of your daily caloric intake. Limit your saturated fats to less than 7% of one day’s calories and no more than 1% of your calories should come from trans fats. Saturated fat is mostly found in animal products like meat, cheese, butter and dairy products. Trans fats are mostly found in fried foods and baked goods. You can spot trans fats in the ingredients list by looking for the words “partially hydrogenated oils.”

9. Pick whole grains. Half of your grains each day should be whole grains. Whole grains contain the entire grain. Examples of whole grains are whole-wheat flour, oatmeal, whole cornmeal, brown rice, bulgur and popcorn. Most whole grains are a good source of cholesterol- lowering fiber. Fiber also helps keep you feeling full.

10. Manage your stress. Chronic stress can increase your heart rate and blood pressure. The American Heart Association suggests managing your stress through positive self talk, finding pleasure, daily relaxation and emergency stress stoppers like counting to 10 or taking five deep breaths.

(Source: American Heart Association)

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