February is a month dedicated to showing love for your loved ones, but it's also a time to focus on loving your heart. Heart disease is the number one killer in the United States. Since 1963 Congress has required the president to proclaim February "American Heart Month" to bring awareness to heart disease and to highlight information every American should know to be in better health.
"Nearly everyone can find something to improve in terms of his or her heart health, says Dr. Ralph Sacco, president of the AHA and chairman of neurology at the University of Miami.
"When you ask Americans if they are in good health, about 35% say yes," Sacco says. But, according to the AHA study, "less than 1% meet all seven of our criteria."
Take some time this month to assess your heart's health and to find ways make improvements to any weak areas. The following list, called Life's Simple Seven, was recently compiled by the AHA to help us quickly and easily identify important cardiovascular risk factors:
1. Get Active. As little as 30 minutes per day can significantly lower your risk of heart disease. The AHA suggests at least 150 minutes per week of moderate exercise or 75 minutes per week of vigorous exercise. Of course, some combination of both moderate and vigorous exercise is also acceptable. Keep in mind that on days when time is an issue, you could break up your workouts into smaller time intervals as well. Research has shown, for instance, that three 10 minute exercise workouts can have the same benefits on your health as one 30 minute session.
2. Eat Better. While there may seem to be many different and often conflicting reports on what to eat and how much, in general unprocessed, natural, nutrient-rich foods are best. The new USDA nutritional guidelines (released last month) include the following suggestions:
• Enjoy your food, but eat less.
• Avoid oversized portions.
• Make half your plate fruits and vegetables.
• Switch to fat-free or low-fat (1%) milk.
• Compare sodium in foods like soup, bread, and frozen meals – and choose the foods with lower numbers.
• Drink water instead of sugary drinks.
3. Don't smoke. Even with the vast amount of information showing the dangers of tobacco, many people still haven't kicked this health-harming habit. Among other things, smoking increases the risk of heart disease and clot formation, while decreasing the HDL, or "good", cholesterol. The best thing to do is to quit and avoid second-hand smoke whenever possible.
4. Lose Weight. While people often think of reducing the number on the scale for vanity's sake, carrying too much fat in general is not good for your health. Moreover, fat carried at your waistline is particularly dangerous because it's in and around your internal organs, and it increases your risk for high blood pressure and heart disease, as well as high cholesterol and diabetes.
5. Know Your Numbers. The following three measures have been identified by the AHA as important risk indicators for heart disease.
• Blood pressure. Of the one in three adults that have high blood pressure, 21% don’t know that they have it. Your blood pressure should be maintained below 120/80 millimeters of mercury. Pay particular attention to the first number (systolic blood pressure) as it indicates the amount of pressure placed on your arteries when your heart beats (as opposed to the bottom number, or diastolic blood pressure, when the heart is at rest).
• Blood cholesterol. Your total cholesterol should be below 200 milligrams per deciliter of blood. This includes the 75% which your body produces, along with the 25% that comes from the food you eat. Consult with your doctor to see if you are able to moderate your cholesterol levels naturally by eating foods low in cholesterol and saturated fat and free of trans fat, maintaining a healthy weight, and stay physically active.
• Blood glucose. Though controllable, adults with diabetes are two to four times more likely to have heart disease or a stroke than adults without diabetes. Fasting blood glucose should be below 100mg/dL of blood. Learn more...
As a Wildfire Fitness community member, you don't have to be a part of the "norm" of bad health. Make this YOUR year to do more to care for your body and live a better life.
Look Good and Get a Body That Works.
Sources: "A Closer Look: the new guidelines for heart health"
AHA: "Life's Simple Seven", Dietary Guidelines for Americans