Heart Health Smarts

by Diane Wolfe

February has been declared Heart Health Month in America by the American Heart Association. We are encouraged to discover the power of being heart-healthy and taking care of ourselves.

Good heart health depends upon lifestyle choices we make every day. With healthcare costs and coverage becoming a real concern for more and more people, individual life choices have an even greater impact on our future and finances. While in the past, people may have waited for medical evaluation and testing to confirm a need for concern, today’s mentality is becoming one of more proactive and preventative approaches.

Most people are aware of the role diet and exercise play in our overall health, and that a healthy lifestyle is our best weapon against heart disease. According to the AHA, adopting the simple steps below as part of your life will have long-term benefits to your health and heart.

First, use up at least as many calories as you take in each day. Know how many calories you should be eating and drinking to maintain, reduce, or increase your weight. The number of calories to eat each day is based on your age and physical activity level.

Adjust the amount and intensity of your physical activity to match your weight goal. Start off slow and keep a routine going. Stretch before and after exercising, and stay hydrated with water all day. Most importantly, consult a doctor before starting an aggressive exercise regimen.

Second, eat a variety of nutritious foods from all the food groups. Nutrient-rich foods have vitamins, minerals, and fiber, and are lower in calories. Eating a variety of fruits and vegetables may help you control your weight and blood pressure. Unrefined whole-grain foods contain fiber that can help lower blood cholesterol and help you feel full, and eat less. Eat fish twice a week whenever possible. Eating salmon, trout, or herring may help lower your risk of death from coronary artery disease.

As you make daily food choices, base your eating pattern on these AHA recommendations:

  • Choose lean meats and poultry without skin and prepare them without added fats.
  • Select fat-free, 1% fat or low-fat dairy products.
  • Cut back on beverages and foods with added sugars.
  • Keep an eye on your portion size. One fist full is typically one serving size, enough for one person.
  • Chew often and eat slowly!

Use healthy methods of food preparation, too. Use “choice” or “select” grades of beef rather than “prime” and trim the fat off the edges before cooking. Use cuts of red meat and pork labeled “loin” and “round”; they usually have the least fat. With poultry, use the leaner light meat, like breasts, instead of fattier dark meat like legs and thighs. Make recipes with egg whites, instead of egg yolks. Two whites = one yolk. Instead of frying foods, use cooking methods that add little or no fat, like stir-frying. Use a wok to cook veggies, poultry, or seafood in vegetable stock, wine, or small amount of Extra Virgin Olive Oil. Avoid high-sodium seasonings like teriyaki or soy sauce. When roasting, use a rack in the pan so the meat doesn’t sit in its own fat drippings. Try basting with wine, tomato juice or lemon juice. Grilling and broiling are both great fat-free cooking approaches. Bake foods in covered cookware with some sort of liquid, instead of pan frying meat or fish. Steam your vegetables; they will retain more flavor and nutrients.

Third, lead a healthy lifestyle. This is a vital weapon in the battle against heart disease.

Stop smoking today and avoid second hand smoke. Limit your intake of alcohol; excessive alcohol consumption can deplete your body’s supply of vitamins and nutrients.

Identify and reduce stress and anxiety in your life. Surround yourself with happy people! Keep your weight within recommended limits; obesity is the leading cause of heart disease. Get enough sleep each night (6-8 hours is recommended). Visit your doctor to discuss these lifestyle choices.

Ask yourself what you are doing to help your heart along this winter and throughout the year. Make the lifestyle changes necessary to protect yourself against heart disease. No matter what your age, take a long-term interest in your heart before it’s too late – you and those who love you will be glad you did.
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