This February give your heart just as much attention as your loved ones! The whole month of February is American Heart Month. Although heart disease is one of the leading causes of death, it is often preventable with healthy choices. Keep your heart healthy with the following suggestions!

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Know Your Numbers

High cholesterol, blood sugar (HbA1c), and/or blood pressure is associated with an increased risk of developing heart disease. The first step in improving your health is by becoming aware. Getting a basic blood panel can be very eye opening. If your numbers indicate an increased risk, it may be time to start implementing some healthy changes. See below for the optimal lipid panel ranges, HbA1c, and blood pressure levels.

  • Total Cholesterol: <200 mg/dL

  • LDL: <100 mg/dL

  • HDL: 40-50 mg/dL

  • Triglycerides: <150 mg/dL

  • HbA1c: <5.7%

  • Blood Pressure Systolic (Upper Number): <120 mm Hg

  • Blood Pressure Diastolic (Lower Number) <80 mm Hg

Healthy Food Choices

It’s no surprise that heart health is affected by what we eat. Making sure you have a diverse diet in nutrient dense foods can decrease the risk of developing heart disease. Use some of these suggestions to improve your diet choices!

  • Consume a variety of vegetables, fruits, legumes, whole grains, and lean proteins!

  • Watch portion size, especially carbohydrates and protein. Fill half your plate with non-starchy vegetables first!

  • Reduce saturated fat intake. Look for lean sources of protein, switch from butter to olive oil, and choose lower fat dairy products.

  • Reduce added sugar consumption. Added sugar is often found in yogurts, granola bars, and cereal. Compare labels to find a product with less sugar!

  • Avoid trans fat! Trans fat can be found in fried foods, baked foods, and packaged products. To avoid trans fat, look at the ingredients label for the word “partially-hydrogenated”. This is another word for trans fat.

Physical Activity

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The American Heart Association recommends 150 minutes moderate-intensity activity or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity a week. Your heart is a muscle and like other muscles it needs to be worked out to stay strong. Use some of these tips to get some physical activity in while at work! Every little bit can help offset the risk of developing heart disease.

  • Take an afternoon walk during a lunch break.

  • Take the stairs instead of the elevator.

  • Stand during meetings.

  • Walk up and down the stairs for 10 minutes.

  • Use standing or adjustable height desks.

  • Exercise at your desk, with squats or jumping jacks for 5-10 minutes in spare time.

Quitting Smoking and Reducing Exposure

One in four heart disease related deaths is caused by smoking. Smoking can cause inflammation, blood vessel wall damage, disruption in your heart rhythms, an increase in your blood pressure, lowering of your HDL (good cholesterol), and an increase in your LDL (bad cholesterol). Even exposure to secondhand smoke can cause damage. Quitting or reducing your exposure can be very beneficial for your health at ANY age! Even long-time smokers can see great improvements and a reduction in heart disease risk when they quit.

Manage Stress

Not all stress is bad, but when it becomes chronic it can have an impact on our overall health. Stress has been linked with an increased risk of heart disease. Additionally, the behaviors associated with stress can be fairly unhealthy such as smoking, inactivity, overeating, and alcohol, all of which we know negatively impacts heart health. Check out some of these management tips to reduce your total stress level!

  • Take note when you feel stressed. What is causing this stress? How can you prevent it in the future?

  • Prepare for events that you know will be stressful.

  • Take time for yourself to relax. Do what makes you happy. Dance, listen to music, drink a cup of tea, or read a book!

  • Get active! Move your body. Take a walk, go to the gym, stretch, whatever you enjoy most!

  • Fuel up with healthy food. Try having a snack of fruit instead of chips.

  • Chat with a friend or family member.

Post written by Emily Rykaczewski, MS, RDN, LDN

This information is intended for general advice and may not be applicable to everyone. Please speak to your on-site Registered Dietitian if you have specific questions or to find out what is best for your individual needs.

SOURCES:

Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. (2018) Love Your Heart, Love Your Food. Available at https://www.eatright.org/health/wellness/heart-and-cardiovascular-health/love-your-heart-love-your-food. [Accessed 10 Jan 2019]

American Heart Association. (2018) American Heart Association Recommendations for Physical Activity in Adults and Kids. Available at https://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/fitness/fitness-basics/aha-recs-for-physical-activity-in-adults [Accessed 10 Jan. 2019]

American Heart Association. (2014) Stress and Heart Health. Available at https://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/stress-and-heart-health. [Accessed 10 Jan. 2019]

ScienceDirect. (2018) Lifestyle Features and Heart Disease Available at https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/B9780128112793000173 [Accessed 10 Jan 2019]

ScienceDirect. (2018) Cardiovascular Diseases, Obesity, and Lifestyle Changes. Available at https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/B978012811279300001X. [Accessed 10 Jan 2019]