When you think of February, love may be the first thing to come to mind, but February brings us more than just Valentine’s Day; it’s also American Heart Month. Heart disease is one of the most prevalent diseases in Americans and results in 1 out of every 4 deaths in the US. An estimated 80% of heart disease cases are preventable with lifestyle changes and education about how to prevent the disease. Read on to find out the best tips to keep your heart healthy.
Physical activity has many benefits, but in particular can help you to maintain a healthy weight and lower your blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar levels. Different types of exercise improve your health in different ways. Aerobic exercise increases your heart rate and contributes to your overall well-being by improving sleep and clearing your mind. Strength training helps you to both burn fat and build strength and decrease the chance of injury. Try specific group fitness classes that focus on these types of exercise, such as our cycle, TRX or Pilates classes.
Watch What You Eat
Obesity is one of the largest risk factors for heart disease. Even if you’re not overweight or obese, you can make small and easy changes to ensure that you’re focusing on a healthy diet, both for your heart and body.
- Smaller portion size – Recommended portion sizes are often a lot different from what you’re served in restaurants. A good trick to prevent overeating at restaurants: when you go out to eat, ask for a to-go box to be brought with your meal. Once you get your food, put half of it into the to-go box right away. That way, your brain isn’t tricking you into thinking you’re still hungry when there’s still food on the plate. Plus, you’ll get yummy leftovers for the next day and more bang for your buck!
- More fruits and vegetables – Besides being great sources of vitamins and fiber, fruits and vegetables also fill you up and keep you full for longer! Think of them as your “safe snacks” that you can eat a lot of to keep you full. It can be hard to diet and cut you’re your portion sizes if it leaves you hungry, so the more fruits and veggies you eat, the less likely you are to mindlessly snack and overeat.
- Whole grains – Like vegetables, whole grains are also a great source of fiber and other nutrients that contribute to regulating blood pressure and heart health, plus they keep you full longer.
- Low-fat protein – One of the big causes of high cholesterol is consuming fatty foods because they can lead to a buildup in your arteries and increase your risk of heart attack and stroke. Make simple switches such as eating more lean protein like chicken and fish, rather than red meats.
- Reduce sodium – Sodium contributes to high blood pressure, which is a risk factor for heart disease. Many canned and processed foods have added salt to help preserve them, so you can combat this by eating more fresh foods and making your own soups and stews. If you must have prepared meals, look for ones that have reduced sodium.
This may seem like a given but smoking greatly increases your risk for heart disease. When you smoke, fatty substances in your arteries build up. This can create blockages that decrease blood flow and could cause a heart attack. For help to quit smoking, visit the Center for Disease Control’s website to get advice, facts, and resources.
Stay on Top of Your Health
Even if you have a high risk of heart disease, you can manage the symptoms and slow the disease by staying on top of your health. You should have your blood levels tested for cholesterol at least once every 4 to 6 years and your blood pressure tested every 2 years. The YMCA of Greater Cincinnati offers Blood Pressure Self-Monitoring for those with diagnosed hypertension to better manage their blood pressure. We also offer many fun ways to add healthy lifestyle changes to your every day.
Any time is a good time to start taking care of your heart, so let American Heart Month motivate you to start putting your heart health first. The Y is here to help you achieve your health and wellness goals, including working to keep your heart healthy, so stop by today. You belong at the Y.