Show Love to Your Heart this February

February 13, 2014

This post was written by Tiana Yom, MPH, CHES

You’ve probably noticed hues of red and pink everywhere this month, and it’s not just because of Valentine’s Day. February is also American Heart Month. As mentioned in the past, heart disease is the number one cause of death in Americans and more women die of heart disease than men.

An unbalanced diet and inactivity are leading risk factors of heart disease. Foods rich in trans fat (i.e. partially hydrogenated oils), high in sodium, and high in added sugars increase the risk of heart disease. Eating well and being physically active are two lifestyle changes in your control that can help to prevent this life-threatening disease.

Before you get nervous, remember, you don’t need to implement all the recommendations you receive at once. Start with small and simple tweaks to your regular routine. The key is to be consistent with the changes you make and not to add additional goals until you achieve the ones you’re already working on.

Here are some dietary and fitness recommendations you can start adding to your day-to-day life. An adult consuming 2,000 calories daily should aim for:

  • Fruits and vegetables: At least 4.5 cups a day.
  • Fish (preferably oily fish, like salmon): At least two 3.5-ounce servings a week.
  • Fiber-rich whole grains: At least three 1-ounce servings a day.
  • Nuts, legumes, and seeds: At least 4 servings a week, opting for unsalted varieties whenever possible.

Other dietary measures:

  • Sodium: Aim for less than 1,500 mg a day. For point of reference, 1 teaspoon of table salt contains 2300 mg sodium.
  • Added sugars: Reduce foods and beverages with added sugars. The AHA recommends no more than 100 calories/day from added sugar for women and no more than 150 calories/day for men.
  • Processed meats: No more than two servings a week.
  • Saturated fat: Should comprise no more than 7 percent of your total calorie intake.
  • Alcohol: Drink in moderation, meaning one drink per day for women and two drinks per day for men.

The bottom line: Remember, all things in moderation.

When it comes to fitness recommendations, there are different physical activity guidelines for varying age groups. According to the CDC:

  • 6-17 years old need 60 minutes or more of aerobic activity (brisk walking) and muscle strengthening (gymnastics or push-ups).
  • 18-64 years old need at least 1 hour and 15 minutes of a combination of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity (jogging or running) and muscle strengthening activities (lifting weights, working on resistance bands, heavy gardening, and yoga).
  • 65+ years old need at least 5 hours a week of moderate-intensity aerobic activity (jogging and swimming) and muscle-strengthening activities (hip and back stretches).

The overall message from these guidelines is to be physically active and avoid prolonged sitting. As Dr. Peter Katzmaryzyk of Pennington Biomedical Research Center, the nation’s leading obesity center, said, “a person may hit the gym every day, but if he’s sitting a good deal of the rest of the time, he’s probably not leading an overall active life.”

Our bodies need constant movement, which helps circulate our blood flow. Take short walks to jazz up your sedentary workday. If you have at least 10 minutes, you can perform 5 core exercises or burn 100 calories with these no-equipment needed activities. Try to take a 5-10 min walk or a stretch break every hour or even try standing while working.

For more information about heart disease in women, go to GoRedForWomen.org. And for all heart-health related info, check out the American Heart Association’s website.

What’s the #1 thing you do for your heart?

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