Friday, February 4, 2011

Your Heart is on the Line

Grandaddy and me
Most everyone knows by this time that February is American Heart Month.  It has been shown on the news and talk shows.  In fact, today is National Wear Red Day to encourage awareness of heart disease and the factors that contribute to it.  It is a worthy campaign because heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States.  However, there is good news.  Most everyone can reduce their chance of developing, or even prevent, coronary heart disease.  My grandfather died of a heart attack when I was very young.  Unfortunately I never got a chance to really know him and missed out on many life experiences with him.  So, heart disease hits close to home for me.    

According to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC), those with high cholesterol, high blood pressure, obesity, diabetes, unhealthy diet, physical inactivity, and tobacco use (including secondhand smoke) are at increased risk for heart disease.  Most all of these risks can be reduced or eradicated with healthy lifestyle changes.  The CDC states that a healthy diet and lifestyle are the best weapons to fight heart disease.  In addition, daily physical activity is an important step to preventing heart disease.  The American Heart Association promotes following the ABC’s for heart disease prevention - Avoid tobacco, Become more active, and Choose good nutrition.  These philosophies are how I live my life and how I encourage my clients to live.  I call it a “whole-istic” approach to healthy living.  Here are my tips that you and your loved ones can incorporate to reduce or eliminate your risk of heart disease:
  • Move your body in some way.  Exercising has a ripple effect on your entire body – your muscles become more efficient at using blood, your heart gets stronger, and your blood vessels become more limber so blood flows more easily.  You don’t need fancy equipment – just tennis shoes (and a good bra for women) will get you on your way.  The Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health show that just 30 minutes of walking three or more times a week can lower your blood pressure by five points.  You don’t have to run a marathon – you can walk, dance, swim, cycle – whatever you like the most is what will work the best because it is what you’ll do most often. 
  • Bring the Mediterranean to your kitchen.  The majority of fare in the Mediterranean consists of fish and produce.  In studies, omega-3’s from oily fish (salmon, tuna, and sardines) lower heart disease risk by up to 64%.  In addition, you can reduce your risk of dying from heart disease by 30% when you eat three or more servings of fruits & vegetables each day. 
  • Cut back on foods containing partially hydrogenated vegetable oils.  This nasty little ingredient is also known as trans fat – something you want to avoid consuming.  Trans fats are solids, making them less likely to spoil. Using trans fats in the manufacturing process helps foods have a longer shelf life and have a less greasy feel.  While the grease isn’t left on your fingers, it goes straight to your arteries.  So, watch out for commercially baked goods such as crackers, cookies and cakes, and fried foods such as doughnuts and french fries.  These are all likely to contain trans fats.
  • Avoid a high sugar to fiber ratio.  This increases your risk for heart disease.  Stay away from foods with fewer than three grams of fiber and more than ten grams of sugar (look at the label) per serving.  Stick with whole wheat bread, whole grain cereals, brown rice, whole grain pasta, quinoa, and oatmeal.
  • Incorporate both healthy eating and moderate exercise into your life.  Healthful food and exercise together are shown to reduce the size of abdominal fat cells (the most dangerous fat cells are the ones around your middle because they are the ones linked to higher triglycerides and increased risk for heart disease).  Just doing on or the other will not reduce those abdominal fat cells. 
Granmommie and me
I hope you are able to use my tips to help you and your loved ones get heart healthy.  Although February is American Heart month, our health and our hearts should be taken of year-round.  I have lost all four of my grandparents and I can’t help but wonder what we could have shared together had they taken better care of their hearts and health.  Your heart is on the line and it is your responsibility to protect it.  It’s not just for yourself, but for the ones who love you.

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