Welcome to February, American Heart Month!
Regrettably, many of us know individuals that have been affected by heart disease or stroke. Cardiovascular disease remains the leading cause of death in the United States. According to the CDC, 1 in every 3 deaths is caused by heart disease and stroke which equals approximately 2,200 deaths per day. American Heart Month focuses on awareness and promoting healthy lifestyles for the prevention of cardiovascular disease. A heart healthy diet, regular exercise, weight management, stress management, and quitting smoking are all lifestyle changes that reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke. The focus of today’s blog is diet and exercise for a healthy heart.
What is a heart healthy diet?
A heart healthy diet is a well-balanced diet that promotes a healthy weight, good blood pressure, and lower cholesterol levels. Changing your eating habits can be tough, but small changes can make a big difference.
Diet tips to jump start your way to a healthy heart:
Portion Control – The amount of food that you eat is as important as the type of food you eat. Many individuals eat much more than the recommended portion sizes, especially when eating out at restaurants. Eating large portions or eating until you feel “stuffed” leads to consuming increased calories, fats, and cholesterol. Knowing the recommended portion sizes for different types of food is the first step to eating healthier. A portion of vegetables, such as broccoli, is 1 cup which is about the size of a baseball. A portion of meat is 2 to 3 ounces is about the size of a deck of cards. For more information on portion sizes and daily servings of particular food groups, visit the American Heart Association Nutrition Center.
Eat Your Fruits and Veggies – Fruits and vegetables are low in calories and full of nutrients and fiber. Featuring more fruits and vegetables also helps you to avoid eating foods that are high in fats. Choose fruits and vegetables that are fresh or frozen, if buying canned products you should choose low-sodium vegetables and fruits that are pack in juice, not syrup. Deep fried vegetables are not a healthy choice.
Choose Whole Grain - Whole grains are high in fiber and nutrients that support good health. The American Heart Association suggests that at least half of your daily grain servings be whole grains. When you go grocery shopping look at your whole grain options; there are a variety of bread, rice, and pasta products to meet your whole grain needs.
Limit Saturated Fats and Cholesterol - High levels of cholesterol in an individual are linked to an increased risk of heart disease. Limiting how much saturated fats, trans fats, and cholesterol you eat will help improve your cholesterol levels and decrease your risk of heart disease. Avoiding butter, creamer, and shortening is an easy method of decreasing unhealthy fats in your diet. Check the nutrition labels of your food, you would be surprised by the foods that have unhealthy fats and cholesterol in them. The American Heart Association recommends that less than 7% of a healthy adult’s daily calorie intake be from saturated fats. It is also recommended that a healthy adult consume less than 300mg of cholesterol per day. Your healthcare provider may recommend your daily intake of saturated fats and cholesterol be further reduced based on your blood cholesterol levels.
When cooking try to choose healthy fats (monounsaturated fats) such as those in olive or canola oil to promote better heart health. Make low-fat choices a part of your everyday life. Choose low-fat dairy products and lean meats whenever possible. Fish is a great substitute for high-fat meat, especially cold-water fish that are high in omega-3 fatty acids which help lower your triglycerides (blood fats).
Reduce Sodium in Your Diet – A diet that is high in sodium is linked to high blood pressure which is a risk factor for cardiovascular disease. The American Heart Association recommends that healthy adults have less than 2,300mg of sodium per day. In adults over age 50 and those with high blood pressure, diabetes, or kidney disease the daily sodium recommendation is further reduced to 1,500mg per day. One way to reduce the sodium in your diet is to limit the amount of salt that you add to your food. When buying groceries, choose low or reduced sodium foods and check the nutrition labels. Some examples of foods that are high in sodium are canned soups, breads, rolls, and deli meats.
For more information on eating and shopping heart healthy, register for the PinnacleHealth Heart Healthy Eating Programs - Grocery Tour. Learn how to choose healthy food options and read nutrition labels. Even better, it’s free! Call 717-231-8900 to register. Upcoming dates include February 6th at Giant on Simpson Ferry Road, March 6th at Giant on Union Deposit Road, and March 13th at Giant in Kline Village.
Why is exercise so important?
In America, 65% of adults are considered overweight and obese. Our growing waistbands and lack of physical activity is directly related to the development of heart disease. Regular physical activity is good for much more than just weight loss; exercise strengthens your immune system, improves your mood, decreases your blood pressure, and decreases your cholesterol levels.
The American Heart Association recommends 30 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise 5 days per week. Anything that increases your heart rate is considered physical activity, such as going for a walk, climbing stairs, riding bike, or playing a sport. Moderate physical activity 30 minutes per day has been found to reduce the risk of stroke by 20% and the risk of coronary heart disease in women by 30 - 40%.
Tips on getting active:
- Exercising for 10 minutes three times per day is comparable to exercising for 30 minutes once a day. So if you have trouble finding 30 minutes to exercise, exercising for a smaller amount of time in multiple sessions is still beneficial.
- Walking is an easy way to start exercising regularly and it’s free.
- Making small efforts on a daily basis to increase physical activity makes a big difference. For example, when you go shopping park farther from the door. The extra steps you take lead you closer to a healthier heart.
- Workout with a buddy; having someone to workout with is fun and is a great motivator.
- Joining a gym offers a variety of workout options as well as classes to keep your interest.
Thoughts to leave you with.
Making lifestyle changes is difficult; don’t get upset if you fall off the wagon occasionally, just make sure you get back on. Try your best and continually work to improve your diet and physical activity to promote a healthier heart. Talk to your healthcare provider about your risks for heart disease and their recommendations.
Jamie Weeder, MSN, CRNP