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Did you know? February is American Heart Month! Although you should be taking care of your heart all the time, no matter where you live, this is an especially crucial issue for those of us in the States: heart disease is the leading cause of death for both American men and women. In fact, one out of every four deaths are caused by heart disease.
According to a Center for Disease Control report, heart attacks and related conditions caused 2.2 million hospitalizations and 415,000 deaths in 2016. The scariest part? Many of these events were in people as young as 35 and up to 64!
But the good news is, heart disease is largely preventable! There are simple steps you can take to protect your ticker – you just have to be willing to put in a little work. The following will discuss the best foods for heart health, the best types of exercise for healthy heart, and general tips on how to improve heart health.
Fruits and vegetables are high in fiber and vitamins but low in calories, so you will feel full quicker. Plant-based foods also have been shown to help fight diseases related to the heart.
If you get creative, you will find it is easy to incorporate many servings of these essential items in your diet. Bring raw fruit and vegetables to work or while you are running errands and snack on them throughout the day. Mix them into salads, stir fry them for a main entrée, and add them to your morning smoothie. While they are best fresh or frozen, you can also choose canned varieties when necessary.
While fat is important in your diet, the type of fat makes a big difference. Limit saturated fats and completely eliminate trans fats (often indicated by the phrase "partially hydrogenated"). When choosing the best foods for heart health, choose polyunsaturated or monounsaturated fats. These include:
Seeds and nuts
Opt for whole-grain bread, pasta, and brown rice whenever possible!
When choosing carbohydrates, stay away from products that contain refined flour. Whole grains can help regulate heart health and blood pressure because they contain high-quality nutrients and fiber. Some examples include 100% whole-wheat bread, whole-grain pasta, barley, brown rice, buckwheat, and oatmeal.
Protein is important as well, but the type you choose can make a big difference in your overall health. The best foods for heart health include:
Fatty, cold-water fish
Lean red meat
Low-fat dairy products
Pair lean proteins, like grilled chicken, with a side of fresh greens for a meal that's as pretty as it is healthy!
Finally, even if you are eating all the best foods for heart health, it is important to watch your portions. Overeating will not help you reach your goals, so make sure you ingest smaller amounts of the not-so-good foods and more of the foods that deliver the nutrients your heart needs to function at its best.
Part of keeping your heart healthy is being active, and the important thing is to move your body so you burn calories. While different types of exercise may come to mind, there are other creative ways you can stay physically active. The important thing is to choose something you enjoy so you stick with it. Just some of the types of physical activity include:
The key for overall heart health is to be active on a regular basis. It is recommended you perform 30 minutes or more of aerobic activity at a moderately-intense level five days a week. You should also incorporate some type of muscle-strengthening activity two days or more a week. If you are hoping to lower cholesterol and blood pressure, you should be exercising for around 40 minutes three or four times a week at a moderate to vigorous intensity.
While nutrition and exercise are important aspects to heart health, there are other lifestyle changes you can make that will help reduce your risk of cardiac disease. These include:
Quit smoking and drinking. The more you smoke, and the more alcohol you drink, the higher your risk of heart disease.
Get enough sleep. People who do not get enough sleep tend to suffer more from heart disease. This can result from inadequate sleep or sleep apnea. The goal is to get at least eight hours of quality sleep per night. If you suspect you have sleep apnea, speak to your physician about treatment options.
Manage your mental health. Stress has become a big factor in declining heart health. Do something on a regular basis to help you deal with stress and calm your body. This includes yoga, meditation, deep breathing, and staying connected with positive people in your life.