Be Kind to Your Heart
Since 1963, February has been declared American Heart Month. This month is dedicated to raising awareness about cardiovascular diseases, including heart disease and stroke, which are the nation's first and third leading causes of death, respectively. Throughout the month, funds are raised for increased research and education.
February also marks the important "Go Red for Women" initiative, designed to raise public awareness of the fact that heart disease is the number-one killer of women. Many people still consider heart disease a "man's disease." This initiative helps to dispel this myth and increase awareness of the importance of heart health for women.
Risk Factors for Heart Disease:
Uncontrollable Risk Factors:
- Increasing Age
Men age 45 and older have increased risk.
Women age 55 and older have increased risk.
- Family History
Children of parents who developed coronary heart disease before age 55 are more likely to develop it themselves.
- Racial or Ethnic Background
African-Americans, Mexican-Americans, American Indians, and Native Americans are at greater risk.
Controllable Risk Factors:
- Physical Inactivity
- High Blood Pressure
- High Blood Cholesterol
Measures You Can Take to Prevent Heart Disease:
*Maintain a healthy weight.
Being overweight or obese puts greater stress on the body, especially the heart. Talk to your doctor about what a healthy weight is for you. The following chart provides a general guide on the definition of a healthy weight based on body mass index (BMI) as well as a BMI calculator:
Physical activity is essential to heart health. Being active improves circulation, improves heart muscle strength so it pumps more efficiently, decreases resting heart rate, and helps to lower blood pressure.
*Get plenty of sleep.
Research done at the University of Chicago showed that too little sleep can promote calcium buildup in the arteries of the heart. This leads to the formation of plaques that can then break apart and cause heart attacks and strokes. It isn't yet clear how this calcium buildup occurs, but one explanation may involve inflammation. Too little sleep can raise cortisol levels, which leads to inflammation that can destabilize plaques.
- Source: King et al. (2008). Short sleep duration and incident coronary artery calcification. JAMA, 300(24):2859-2866.
*Have your blood pressure monitored.
Blood pressure is the force of blood inside the arteries when the heart beats. Having high blood pressure puts added force against the artery walls. Over time, this extra pressure can damage the arteries. Injured arteries are more likely to become narrowed and hardened by fatty deposits, leading to coronary artery disease.
High blood pressure is called the "silent killer" because there are usually no symptoms of it. People don't know they have high blood pressure unless their doctor checks it. It is extremely important to get your blood pressure checked regularly.
*Know your cholesterol levels and keep them under control.
When LDL ("bad") cholesterol levels are too high, they stick to the lining of the blood vessels, which leads to atherosclerosis.
*Reduce intake of saturated and trans fats.
A diet high in saturated and trans fats leads to increased levels of LDL cholesterol.
*Get tested for diabetes and keep it under control if you have it.
High blood sugar causes the blood to become thicker. Therefore, the heart has to work much harder to circulate blood to the entire body.
Smoking is strongly linked with the development of atherosclerosis (plaque buildup in the arteries). Smoking leads to decreased oxygen to the heart and to other tissues in the body and damages the cells that line the coronary arteries and other blood vessels.
*Increase your intake of heart-healthy phytochemicals.
Some research has shown a benefit to consuming certain phytochemicals, which are micronutrients often found in fruits and vegetables. The American Heart Association states that more research is needed in this area. Therefore, they recommend consuming a wide variety of fruits, vegetables and whole grains to ensure an optimal intake of nutrients. The following link lists specific phytochemicals that may offer heart-healthy benefits:
What's so super about superfoods?
Important Nutritional Considerations for a Healthy Heart:
- Cut back on foods containing partially hydrogenated vegetable oils to reduce trans fat in your diet.
- Cut back on beverages and foods with added sugars.
- Choose and prepare foods with little or no salt. Aim to eat less than 2,300 milligrams of sodium per day.
- If you drink alcohol, drink in moderation. That means one drink per day if you're a woman and two drinks per day if you're a man.
- Select fat-free and low-fat dairy products, including milk, yogurt, and sour cream.
- Choose lean meats and poultry without the skin.
- To keep portions smaller, split an entrée with your dining partner or take half home when dining alone.
- Ask for sauces and dressings on the side to control the fat, sodium, and calories you eat.
- When ordering, choose foods that have been grilled, baked, steamed, or poached instead of fried, sautéed, smothered, or au gratin.
- For dessert, try herbal tea or decaffeinated coffee. If you just can't resist dessert, order fresh fruit or split a small portion with a dining partner.
Today, choose to make heart health a priority for you and your loved ones. Learning to make delicious, heart-healthy recipes is another great way to be kind to your heart. Go to the following sections to find some delicious heart-healthy options!