Heart Health Month: Tips to Maintain a Healthy Heart!

By Lindsey Johnson

February is Heart Health Month! Now is the time to focus on cardiovascular health, according to the CDC. Eating a healthy diet is an important step towards minimizing the risk of heart disease. The American Heart Association (AHA) offers a variety of recommendations to keep your heart healthy.

Good Heart-y Food

Taste the rainbow

Consuming a variety of fruits and vegetables is important to maintain overall health. The different colors of the foods demonstrate the variety of nutrients available. Whenever possible, choosing fresh and frozen are the best choices. Canned foods can be high in sodium or sugar, so check the label when choosing canned items.

Whole grains

Aim for whole grain items when selecting grain products. Whole grains provide better nutrients and are high in fiber, which acts like a vacuum to help keep the arteries clean.

Opt for healthier fats

Fat is an essential part of a healthy diet, but choosing the right fats can be tricky. Limiting saturated and trans fats will improve cholesterol levels and provide a healthier environment within your body. Instead, opt for unsaturated fats such as olive oil, canola oil, avocado, nuts and seeds.

Dairy products

When selecting dairy products, low-fat (1%) or skim (fat-free) are the best options for heart health.

Cheers to that

Small amounts of alcohol have been proven to have cardioprotective benefits when it comes to heart health. However, alcohol in excess can be detrimental and lead to a variety of health complications. The Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee recommends no more than one drink per day for women and two drinks per day for men.

Limit sodium

While most people know that canned soups are overflowing with sodium, many don’t know about the other places sodium is hiding. For example, one serving of ketchup has 160mg of sodium or 7% of the recommended daily value. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA)’s recommended daily value for an adult at low risk is 2,300mg of sodium per day. However, for those at risk of heart disease, the American Heart Association (AHA) recommends an upper limit of 1,500mg per day, making that one serving of ketchup 11% of the total daily value! Moral of the story? Always read the label!

Meat options

While there are some scientific studies such as those by Dr. Dean Ornish and reviews by Dr. Jason Rocha supporting the benefits of a plant- based diet in the reduction of heart disease, the majority of Americans are not interested in taking that leap. Meat can be incorporated into an overall healthy diet by choosing primarily skinless poultry and fish and limiting red meat. Some fish, such as salmon, trout, albacore tuna, and herring are high in omega-3 fatty acids, which can reduce the risk of heart disease. The American Heart Association recommends the optimal dose of fish consumption at 3.5-4.0 ounces twice per week.

Exercises For A Healthy Heart

Regular exercise

This is one of the most beneficial behaviors for overall health. The Department of Health and Human Services Physical Activity Guidelines for adults recommend 150-300 minutes of moderate intensity or 75-150 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity (or an equivalent combination) each week. The guidelines also recommend including moderate to vigorous strength activities at least two days a week. Aerobic activities are those that increase the heart rate and the body’s use of oxygen, such as running, walking, biking, gardening, jumping rope, tennis, or skating. Strength activities use the resistance of bodyweight or adding additional weights such as dumbbells or weight vests to help put additional resistance on muscles to build strength. Some common bodyweight resistance exercises include pushups, planks, lunges, squats, and pull-ups.

If you’re ready to tackle more, try using dumbbells for bicep curls, weighted squats, push press, or step-ups. Not only will regular exercise reduce the risk for heart disease, it has other health benefits such as reducing risk for cancer, obesity, mental health disorders and cognitive decline. It can also strengthen bones, enhance mood, increase energy levels and improve sleep.

Discover the Power Behind Taking a Nap

Easy Food Swaps for Healthy Eating Habits

6 Books to Enlighten the Spirit and Motivate Your Year

The Ultimate Gifts to Celebrate a New Chapter in Life