By: Leah Golden, MS, RD
February is American Heart Month. While February is a time many people think about Valentine’s Day, heart shaped chocolate and love, it’s a perfect month for educating yourself on the health of your heart. Heart disease is a leading cause of death in both men and women in the United States.
Keeping your heart strong and healthy will prevent disease and keep your ticker a tockin’. While those with a family history of early diagnosed heart disease are at an increased risk, there are additional factors that can make you more susceptible. Fortunately, there are lifestyle changes that can help reduce cardiovascular disease risk. Let’s take a look.
Heart disease has multiple risk factors, some which include:
- High blood pressure: Uncontrolled high blood pressure can cause the arteries to thicken and become hard, reducing the pathway for blood to flow.
- High cholesterol: Increased cholesterol can cause a buildup of plaque in the artery walls, creating a blockage.
- Diabetes: Typically, those with diabetes, especially type 2 have additional risk factors that contribute to an increased risk for heart disease (including high cholesterol, inactivity, obesity, high blood pressure, smoking and poor blood sugar control).
- Physical inactivity: Lack of activity can increase other risk factors for heart disease (i.e- obesity, high blood pressure, etc).
- Too much alcohol
- Tobacco use
- Obesity: Being overweight or obese can increase risk for high cholesterol, high blood pressure and can influence blood sugar regulation (contributing to a risk of diabetes).
- Unhealthy nutrition: Consuming high amounts of fat, salt and sugar can contribute to the development of heart disease.
- Genetics: Families with known heart disease, especially diagnosed before the age of 55 have an increased risk.
- Additional risk factors:
- Age: The older you get, the risk for heart disease also increases.
- Gender: Men have a higher risk for heart disease. The risk for women increases after menopause.
How to decrease your heart disease risk:
- Increase physical activity
- The American Heart Association recommends a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate intensity aerobic exercise per week or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity. You can also do a combination of the two.
- Include two days of weight/resistance training per week.
- Stay at a healthy weight: This varies based on a number of factors (ie.- gender, height, body fat percent).
- Eat healthy foods
- Decrease sodium intake: Be mindful of packaged, deli and restaurant foods as they tend to have more salt. Cook at home with more herbs and spices. Keeping sodium intake in check may help keep blood pressure at a healthy level.
- Limit saturated fat intake: Include more lean meats, seafood, plant based proteins and limit fried foods. This may help reduce cholesterol levels or maintained at a healthy level.
- Eat a variety of fruits and vegetables with many different colors
- Eat nuts and legumes
- Include healthy fats from salmon, avocado and olive oil
- Eliminate tobacco use
- Decrease alcohol intake
The topic of heart health can be overwhelming. Try to make small changes that you can do consistently. Swap out red meat one or two times a week with salmon or a plant protein. Add a day of walking for 20 minutes to increase your activity during the week. If you can make small changes and stick to them, you’re more likely to make them ongoing healthy habits. Once you tackle one goal, it’s time for the next! If you have any questions about your own health risks and want some advice on how to make some positive changes, please don’t hesitate to reach out! Healthy hearts are happy hearts!