February is American Heart Month so it’s a perfect time for us to focus on taking better care of our hearts.
Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States, so it’s important for all of us to look at our risk factors and the lifestyle changes we can make to prevent heart disease.
A few risk factors we cannot change include our gender and age. Men over the age of 45 and women over the age of 55 are at a greater risk of getting heart disease and family history may also play a role.
But most of the risk factors for heart disease can be changed by adapting a more healthy lifestyle. Some of the lifestyle-based risk factors for heart disease are smoking, inactivity, stress, diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure, elevated triglycerides and elevated LDL cholesterol.
Thankfully, we can reduce many of these risk factors to take better care of our hearts.
If you smoke, quit smoking. Smoking narrows your blood vessels and increases your risk of heart disease. For free help and support to quit smoking, you can call the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Smoking Quitline at 1-800-QUIT-NOW (1-800-784-8669). Vaping has also been found to damage the heart and lungs so talk to your physician about quitting that as well.
If you get little physical activity, find ways to move more. Talk to your physician before you start a new exercise plan. Then find ways to include more walking, biking, swimming, dancing or other physical activities that raises your heart rate into your daily routine. Work up gradually to at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity aerobic exercise each week.
Obesity and excess weight contribute to chronic disease. If you are overweight, try to lose at least 5-7% of your body weight. Losing even a small amount of weight can lower your triglycerides and glucose levels as well as your blood pressure.
If you have diabetes or pre-diabetes, get your blood sugars into the recommended range. Elevated blood sugars can damage your blood vessels and the nerves that control your heart.
Control your stress. Stress can contribute to high blood pressure and other heart disease risk factors.
If you have high blood pressure, work to keep your blood pressure at 140/90 or less. Weight loss, activity and reducing your sodium intake may all help control your blood pressure.
Choose a heart healthy eating plan to control your weight, cholesterol, blood pressure and blood sugars:
- Choose more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, and low fat dairy and protein foods.
- Limit added salt, processed foods and takeout or fast foods to control your sodium intake.
- Limit saturated and trans fats by reducing your intake of processed foods, fatty meats, high fat dairy products, butter, coconut oil, palm oil and hydrogenated fats. Choose limited amounts of olive oil, canola oil, nuts and seeds.
- Limit added sugars to reduce inflammation. This includes sweetened drinks, snacks, sweets and high sugar cereals.
- Limit or avoid alcohol. If you do not drink, don’t start. If you do drink, limit yourself to no more than one drink a day for women and two drinks a day for men.
The Platte County Lifestyle Coalition is here to help you live a healthier life. To do that, we recommend you move more, eat well, sleep well, stress less and love more.
For more information on the coalition or how you can become involved, contact Gene Vis, Platte County Lifestyle coalition coordinator, at 402-562-4480.
Joan Plummer is a registered dietician at Columbus Community Hospital.