Kick Start a Heart Healthy Lifestyle

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February is American Heart Month so there is no better time to start living a heart healthy lifestyle! According to the Center for Disease Control, heart disease and stroke are the leading causes of death in the U.S. Here are some ways to start living a heart healthy lifestyle:

  • Move more! The general rule is 30 minutes a day of exercise. However, if you are just starting out, it can be hard to go from no exercise to exercising every day. The important thing to remember is that something is always better than nothing. If ten minutes is all you have time for, then that’s okay. It’s also okay to break up that 30 minutes into three 10 minute mini-workouts. Don’t torture yourself. Find a form of exercise that you like to do. If you hate the gym, then don’t work out there. Hate the treadmill? Don’t use it. Like dancing? Take a zumba, salsa, or swing dancing class. Find a friend to take evening walks with and catch up on your gossip while you exercise. Miss the days of Little League? Find a community softball or volleyball league to join and add some friendly competition to your workouts. The more you enjoy the activity you are doing, the more likely you are to keep it up.
  • Eat more fruits and veggies! It’s time to finally start listening to Mom! However, eating the recommended daily amount of fruits and veggies (2-4 servings daily for fruit, 3-5 for vegetables) can be overwhelming. Try to make small changes such as replacing your serving of pasta or rice with a vegetable. Instead of potato chips with your sandwich at lunch, go for some baby carrots or an apple. Also, don’t be afraid to season your cooked vegetables. Most seasonings have very little bearing on your caloric intake. Just be sure to keep an eye on the salt content in your seasonings.
  • Get more sleep! A lack of sleep can cause your blood pressure to rise, your immune system to weaken, and can cause you to gain weight. If you notice that you are sleeping for the recommended 8 hours and still feel tired throughout the day, you may want to talk to your doctor.
  • Drink more water! Your body needs to be hydrated to control your blood pressure, support kidney function, and eliminate waste from your body.Find that you are feeling sluggish and have a headache? You may be dehydrated. Caffeine can act as a diuretic which causes your body to void water. Try to cut back on your caffeine and get your 8 servings of water daily. Keep a water bottle at your desk to sip on and refill it throughout the day.
  • Watch your salt intake! According to Institute of Medicine, the recommended daily salt intake is 2,300 mg per day. To put this in perspective, the amount of salt in 1 tablespoon of Soy sauce is 1,000 mg! Needless to say, limiting your salt intake to 2,300 mg per day can be pretty tough. The easiest way to do this is to avoid processed foods. By cooking with fresh ingredients, the only salt you will take in is the salt you add to your food yourself.
  • Eat healthy fats! Putting the words “healthy” and “fat” next to each other probably seems contradicting. However, monounsaturated fat and polyunsaturated fat can actually help lower cholesterol, blood pressure, and help control blood sugar levels. Examples of monounsaturated fats are olive oil and canola oil and polyunsaturated fats are generally found in nuts and seeds.

Living a heart healthy lifestyle does take some effort, but don’t be too hard on yourself. It can take 60-90 days to form a habit so you have to be patient with yourself. Living heart healthy is about making permanent lifestyle changes, not a temporary quick-fix. Talk to your doctor about how you can improve your diet and exercise to keep your heart healthy!

Below are some websites that provide more information on American Heart Month, heart health, heart disease, stroke, and dietary recommendations:

American Heart Association

Center for Disease Control – Heart Month

Center for Disease Control – Nutrition for Everyone

Mayo Clinic – Heart Healthy Diet

American Stroke Association

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