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Focus on heart health this month

Diann Douglas

February is Heart Month, a time to focus on heart health.  The American Heart Association (AHA) suggests adopting healthy lifestyle habits will help reduce your risk of developing heart disease. Sensible eating habits and physical activity go a long way to keeping you on track for better heart health.

Eat Better – According to the AHA, a healthy diet is one of the best things you can do to combat heart disease.  There is a lot of confusing information out there about how to eat well.  Increase your consumption of fruits and vegetables; they are high in nutrients and fiber while low in calories.  Eat more whole grain foods; to be sure you are getting whole grains, read the ingredient labels and look for the words “whole-grains.”  Choose lean meats and poultry without skin and low-fat dairy foods.

Get Moving – The USDA Dietary Guidelines recommend at least 30 minutes of physical activity each day.  Research shows regular exercise helps reduce blood pressure and blood sugars while increasing “HDL” cholesterol and controlling weight.  Physical activity is a key component to a healthy lifestyle; start a walking routine today.  If you are just too busy, take 10 minute breaks several times a day to stretch, lift hand weights or walk around the block.

Lose Weight – It is estimated that 145 million Americans are overweight or obese.  People who are overweight, especially those who carry their weight around their waist are at higher risk for heart disease. Weight is dependent on calories eaten and calories burned.   By cutting back on your calorie intake and increasing your physical activity you will be successful at losing weight.

Control Cholesterol – The general public has a negative perception of cholesterol, it actually plays several important roles in our bodies.  It is used by cell membranes and helps produce certain hormones.  While we produce our own cholesterol, we also eat food that has cholesterol in it,  many Americans end up with high levels of cholesterol.  A safe level is under 200 mg/dl.  The AHA recommends we have regular screenings, eat foods low in cholesterol, saturated fats and trans fats, maintain a healthy weight and stay physically active.   

Manage Blood Pressure – Known as the silent killer, hypertension is the single most significant risk factor for heart disease. Left uncontrolled, high blood pressure can cause major health problems and death.  It is estimated that one in three adults have high blood pressure and about 21 percent don’t know they have it.  Get your blood pressure checked routinely, and take medication if it is prescribed by your doctor. Other helpful habits include eating a heart-healthy diet, reducing salt intake, getting regular physical activity, managing stress, and avoiding tobacco smoke.

Reduce Blood Sugar Levels – Adults with diabetes are at a higher risk for heart disease if their blood sugar levels are not controlled.  Often, small changes add up to improved glucose levels.  If you are diabetic, work with your health care provider to create a plan that controls your blood sugar levels.  It usually involves a combination of medication, diet and physical activity.

Stop Smoking – We all know the consequences of smoking; it puts you at a higher risk for heart disease and cancer. So, if you smoke, find a way to quit.

Make small changes, adopting one or two of these lifestyle habits at a time will contribute to your overall health and reduce your risk of heart disease.   Begin by eating right and getting some physical activity into your daily routine and you may find health benefits will easily follow.  For more information about food and nutrition, contact the Madison County Extension Service.

The University of Florida Extension/IFAS Extension – Madison County is an Equal Employment Opportunity Institution.

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