February is American Heart Month, and nothing is more important than staying heart healthy for yourself and for your family. 70% of cardiovascular disease can be prevented or delayed with diet and a healthy lifestyle. We can’t change all factors, like age and genetics, but the following are strategies we can change to better our heart health.
Meet with your health care team: Knowledge is power, and preventative visits with your health care team helps identify risk factors before they become big problems. Visit your doctor, have your cholesterol screened, and blood pressure checked regularly.
Maintain a healthy weight: Being overweight or obese increases your risk of cardiovascular disease. Start creating a caloric deficit by eating smaller portions and increasing your activity level. Studies show losing 10% of your current body weight can significantly improve your health, lower cholesterol, lower blood pressure, increase insulin sensitivity, and decrease inflammation.
Increase fiber intake: 38 g for men and 25 g for women daily is recommended. 10 g should come from soluble fiber sources to help reduce cholesterol naturally. Great sources are beans, oatmeal, lentils, apples, pears, berries, flaxseeds, and peas.
Exercise regularly: Moderate-intense exercise 30 minutes 5 days per week is recommended. This includes fast walking, hiking, water aerobics, and biking on level ground. Higher intensity exercise provides even greater health benefits and burns more calories helping with weight management.
Eat less sodium: The American Heart Association recommends most people limit their sodium intake to 1500 mg daily. This is about 1/2 tsp and includes “hidden” sources such as sodium in vegetables, bread, lunchmeat, condiments, and restaurant food.
Eat the right fat: Adopt a Mediterranean style diet which includes a moderate amount of healthy fat (monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats) while limiting unhealthy fats (saturated and trans fats).
Eat fatty fish regularly: Regularly eating two servings (3.5 oz per serving) of fatty fish (salmon, tuna, trout, herring, sardines, and mackerel) weekly is associated with 30-40% reduced risk of death from cardiac events.
Reduce processed foods: Foods that have been altered from their nature state are processed. They take up the majority of space in the grocery store and come in a box or bag. These convenient foods are often high in sugar, salt, fat, and artificial ingredients. Try not to be deceived by “organic” and “natural” packaged foods; these words should not imply the food is healthy for us. The majority of the food you eat should be REAL food in its unadulterated natural state. Try to limit your intake of processed foods to help lower inflammation, empty calories, and harmful added ingredients.
Don’t smoke: Smoking is the most preventable cause of premature death in our country. Smoking increases your risk of heart disease by damaging arteries, making your blood thicker, and can increase plaque formation.
Limit alcohol use: Moderate consumption may have protective benefits against cardiovascular disease, but high intake can be deadly. Men should limit intake to one or two drinks per day and women should limit intake to one drink or less per day.