February was AmericanHeart Month.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Million Hearts® – a national effort to prevent a million heart attacks and strokes in the United States by 2017 – encouraged Americans to learn about being heart healthy.
There are some simple things we can do to keep our hearts healthy all year long.
If we concentrate on our heart just 30 days of the year, we’re not going to accomplish optimal heart health. Research has shown, time and again, that healthy eating and exercise are key – along with eliminating or reducing important risk factors.
Let’s look at three proven, time-tested strategies to improve heart health.
1. Eat heart smart. Yes, it’s true. The food you eat can decrease your risk of heart disease and stroke. A healthy diet is one of your best defenses against cardiovascular disease. A heart-healthy diet includes foods rich in vitamins and other nutrients such as vegetables, fruit and whole grains.
Starting today you can begin a healthy eating plan.
Banish bad choices. Take the time to read food labels and, whenever possible, ban foods with trans-fat, cholesterol, added sodium, sugar and sweeteners. Curbing those diet no-nos can help reduce risk factors like high blood pressure, artery-clogging cholesterol, diabetes and obesity.
Make good choices. As part of a heart-healthy diet, it pays to eat plenty of fruits and vegetables, fiber-rich whole grains, nuts, legumes and seeds. When it comes to protein choices, opt for healthier sources – fat-free and low-fat dairy products, lean meats and skinless poultry.
Go fish. Twice a week, try eating oily fish such as mackerel, sardines, fresh tuna and salmon. All are excellent sources of omega-3 fats, which can help protect against heart disease.
2. Take exercise to heart. How can exercise really help the heart? Well, like all muscles, exercise makes the heart stronger, so it can pump more blood through the body with every beat and continue working at maximum level with less strain.
You can begin now by setting a few goals for yourself.
Get moving. The research is clear. Inactivity is a major risk factor for heart disease, but exercise can improve heart health and even reverse some risk factors. Best of all, any amount of exercise has proven to be beneficial. So it just pays to get moving.
Have fun. If you enjoy what you’re doing, you are much more likely to make it a part of your life. So we believe the best exercise is the one you like to do. The goal for good heart health is to get regular aerobic exercise every day.
Make it count. Try to work up to 2-1/2 hours of physical activity over the course of a week. The American Heart Association recommends 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise weekly. That could be as simple as taking a brisk 30-minute walk five times between Monday and Sunday.
3. Reduce risk factors. Does age affect our risks for heart disease? According to the American Heart Association, it does. Our blood pressure, cholesterol and other heart-related numbers tend to rise as we age. So along with healthy eating and exercise, we should focus on reducing risk factors.
Take this opportunity to cut any known heart risks now.
Stop smoking. According to the American Heart Association, smoking is the most important preventable cause of premature death in the United States. It’s certainly one of the main causes of coronary heart disease. The good news? Just one year after quitting, your risk of a heart attack falls to about half that of a smoker.
Drink less. If you drink alcohol, do so in moderation. That means an average of one to two drinks per day for men and one drink per day for women. Drinking more alcohol increases such dangers as stroke and cardiovascular risk factors such as high blood pressure and obesity.
Limit stress. Some studies have linked stress to cardiovascular disease. To compound the problem, people under stress often overeat or smoke. Take any steps you can to relax. If you're feeling under pressure, clear your mind with a walk. If it's a brisk walk, it will also count towards your daily activity!
Peabody Retirement Community recently opened The Billie Jane Strauss Wellness Center, and all year long we offer opportunities to drop by and improve your health.
In January, we launched the Peabody Walking Club, creating a special one-mile course through the hallways, so residents and neighbors could clock some heart-healthy mileage in the warmth, comfort and safety of the Strauss Center. And we extended our focus on heart health into the next month with our Healthy Hearts & Healthy Habits dine and learn event on Friday.
For more information about heart health, visit PeabodyRC.org