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Healthy Living

Simple Steps Toward Heart Health

By Sheryl Kraft

Created: 02/14/2011
Last Updated: 08/13/2012

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It’s hard to ignore all the messages that February brings, with hearts all around and aflutter.  Emotional hearts for the messages of love and affection on Valentine’s Day…and human hearts for healthy reminders about cardiovascular disease, the number one killer in our country. And though Valentine’s Day goes all the way back to 500 AD when Pope Gelasius shortened it from the early Christian martyrs named Saint Valentine, the connotation of heart and health is not that old – it was established in 1963 when Congress required the president to proclaim February “American Heart Month.”

I’m not going to dispense advice on your love life – that’s best left to those experts who deal with emotional matters of the heart (like my friend and fellow blogger Alisa Bowman and her - but what I’m going to do give you the American Heart Association’s new guidelines for heart health, called “.” (For ease, I’ve consolidated it into five tips. Still simple, though.)

It’s worth a look; in a nationwide study of close to 18,000 adults it was found that those who followed at least five of the seven criteria for ideal cardiovascular health had a 55 percent lower risk of death over five years than those who met none. And I think the statistics can be improved upon if we all pay close(r) attention, take them seriously and try just a bit harder.

Get Active. The AHA’s guidelines call for moderate exercise for at least 150 minutes each week; or vigorous exercise for at least 75 minutes each week. Exercise helps control your weight, reduce your blood pressure, increase your HDL (good cholesterol) and improve your body’s response to insulin, which helps control your blood sugar. Struggling with motivation? Click or start a

Know – and Control - Your Numbers.  There are three significant and important measures that can predict – and increase –your risk for heart disease: blood pressure, blood glucose and blood cholesterol levels. Keep all three in the healthy range and you can reduce your risk of death from cardiovascular disease over 16 to 22 years by 70-80 percent compared with those who have at least one number in a high-risk range. Here’s what to aim for: blood pressure should be maintained below 120/80; fasting blood glucose should be below 100 mg per deciliter of blood; total cholesterol should be below 200 milligrams per deciliter of blood.

Feed Yourself Well. Being aware of the nutritional value of what you’re eating goes a long way toward a healthy heart. Eat a variety of fruits and vegetables; try to get 4-1/2 cups per day. Not only are they low in calories and high in vitamins, minerals and fiber; they can help control your weight and your blood pressure. Unrefined whole-grains are packed with and can help push your unhealthy cholesterol levels down while keeping you full. It’s recommended you eat at least 3 ounces each day.  Aim to eat fish at least twice a week, especially oily fish (like salmon, trout and herring) containing omega-3 fatty acids; research shows it may have heart-healthy benefits. Avoid (or at least cut back on) foods that contain partially hydrogenated vegetable oils to reduce the amount of trans fat you consume; since raises your “bad” cholesterol and lowers your “good” numbers.  Meats and poultry should be prepared without added saturated and trans fats; they should be as lean as possible and served without the skin. As for , new guidelines support that all people limit their daily intake to no more than 1,500 mg (less than 1 tsp.) And limit the amount of sugar you consume; it’s recommended you consume no more than 450 calories worth of sugar-sweetened beverages in a week.

Watch Your Weight. A staggering statistic: of Americans age 20-, 145 million are overweight or obese – that translates to 76.9 million men and 68.1 million women. Yikes. And since obesity is now a major culprit for heart disease, that’s just downright frightening. Too much fat – especially the kind of fat that sits around your waist – puts you at a much higher risk for problematic conditions like high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes, many more.  The AHA recommends keeping your body mass index (BMI) – which is your body weight relative to your height - below 25. To calculate it, multiply your weight in pounds by 703, then divide that number by the square of your height in inches. Or click here.

Stop Smoking. I truly hope you never started, but if you do smoke, please stop! You can prevent premature death; lower your risk of developing many chronic and debilitating disorders like atherosclerosis (the buildup of fatty substances in your arteries) which can lead to heart disease, heart attack and stroke. Smoking also increases the tendency toward blot clots and decreases your HDL cholesterol.

Wishing you all a Happy Valentine’s Day – in all matters of the heart.

Hungry for more? Important reading:

 

Comments

Great advice. I know I need to be eating more fruits and veggies, it sounds silly just during the winter months it seems so much harder. You can only eat so many apples, what I'm really craving is more of a variety of fresh produce at the grocery store. I'm ready for spring!

I couldn't agree more. Spring seems like it'll never get here! It's been a long, hard winter.

Thanks for this information! As I get older I realize I can't stay complacent about my health anymore. I do walk a fair amount but I'll try to increase it, as it's the only exercise I ever get.

Yes, as we get older it becomes more difficult to stay complacent. THere are many things we need to be proactive about. Walking is good, though~ you are on the right track!

thanks for the straightforward list, Sheryl. you've done a lot of good today with it, I think.

Thanks, Kath. I do hope that it will make a difference in people's habits and lives.

Excellent tips. Thanks!

Thanks for this! And especially on Valentine's Day, when we should give ourselves a valentine and take good care of US.

I'm at the age where it's becoming more and more important to take care of myself, because I can see myself 30 or 40 years down the road, and I want to stay healthy into my later years.

Yes, a good - and important - gift to ourselves. AFter all, it is up to us in the long-run...

Never can be reminded too many times of these simple things. Just think how lucky we are to KNOW steps we can take. Your grandparents and great grandparents did not have a clue.

I love reading your blog. Since I am an American Heart certified instructor, this story about heart health hit home for me. I just had a family member die last week. Often, someone can take all the precautions and still have a heart attack. My advice - Learn CPR! The daughter of the family member that died did not know CPR. She stood there for 20 minutes not knowing what to do while waiting for the paramedics to arrive. The American Heart website is a great place to start. Our organization offers low cost classes in several states: . Find a local class today and get CPR smart!

Thanks, Mollie, and I'm so sorry about your loss. And thanks for the reminder and link about CPR. How helpless your friend must have felt!

Am duly following all these steps! Or trying to anyway...

Think I'm doing pretty well on your list -- maybe because I read your excellent column all the time.

A lot of women don't realize that they can be at risk for heart disease if they don't take care of their health. Heart disease is the number one killer for women.

On a good day, I think I do pretty well with your list. Don't ask me what I ate today, though.

wonderful post. Yes, as mentioned, so many women are focused on breast cancer that they neglect heart health. You included some very good advice.

In this cold climate, it's so hard to motivate myself to get out from under the covers and get active in the mornings. Maybe if I think of it as something I need to do for my sweetie, it will help!

Clear, straightforward reminders with explanations that go into enough depth - an excellent service to readers.

Yes, these simple steps towards heart health are affective.

Increasing women's cradiovascular health knowledge, health literacy will also improve boutron outcome.

For Her Heart.org is a gentle, sincere non profit that helps women re-define beliefs, attitudes and behaviors about heart health.

Perhaps this decade we will be able to replace stressful messaging (negativity) about women's heart health with the more positive energy of nurturing and cultivating women's cardiovascular health.

I spent last 4 hours reading your posts ! And must say: awseome blog ! !

Thanks for reading and for the feedback! Glad you are enjoying the content.

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