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Here are three heart smart behaviors in honor of American Heart Month in February.

#1. Focus on foods that have heart healthy benefits. This includes:

  • Foods high in fiber like whole fruits, vegetables, legumes and whole grains. Soluble fiber, like that found in oatmeal, can help lower your cholesterol levels. Another added benefit is that they keep you feeling fuller longer. Try adding more fiber-rich snacks in between meals for a satisfying effect. 
  • Another heart-healthy nutrient is omega-3 fatty acids. The best sources come from fatty fish like salmon, lake trout, mackerel and herring. The American Heart Association recommends eating fish twice a week for heart health benefits. If you are taking omega-3 supplements, it’s wise to discuss this with your physician.
  • In addition to eating more fiber and omega-3 fats, it’s a good idea to replace some saturated fats in your diet with monounsaturated fats. The American Heart Association recommends eating no more than 13 grams of saturated fat a day based on a 2,000 calorie diet. Common sources of saturated fat include red meat, cheese, butter, lard and many baked goods. Alternatives include olive oil, avocados, low-fat dairy and lean meats or poultry without the skin. Monounsaturated fats like olive oil, avocados and nuts can help reduce your LDL cholesterol levels and your risk of heart disease and stroke.

Looking for heart healthy foods when shopping for groceries? Look for the Heart-Check logo on food product labels.

#2. A body in motion stays in motion. Physical activity can help manage many health problems like arthritis, diabetes and high blood pressure.  Adults with chronic conditions, who are able, should aim for a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity spread throughout the week. This could include activities like brisk walking, biking, household chores and dancing. In addition, adults should aim for at least two days a week of muscle-strengthening activities. People with chronic conditions can consult a health care professional or physical activity specialist about the types and amounts of activity appropriate for their abilities.

#3. Learn to let it go. Research has shown that holding on to grudges can put your body through the same strains as a major stressful event. This stress can cause your muscles to tense and your blood pressure to rise. By allowing yourself to forgive you can take the extra workload off of your heart. This is also beneficial for your emotional and social well-being. Learning how to forgive takes time and some people are better at this than others. There are many tools out there to help you manage stress so don’t let it get the best of you.

American Heart Month each February is a great time to raise awareness about the leading cause of death of men and women in the United States. The theme this year is all about inspiring people to join forces to reach desired health goals. Did you know that people who have close relationships at home, work, or in their community tend to be healthier and live longer? One reason, according to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI), is that we’re more successful at meeting our health goals when we join forces with others.

Follow these heart healthy lifestyle tips with your friends, family, coworkers, and others in your community and you’ll all be heart healthier for it:

  • Be more physically active.
  • Maintain a healthy weight.
  • Eat a nutritious diet.
  • Quit smoking.
  • Find healthy ways to deal with stress.
  • Get enough quality sleep.
  • Track your heart health stats.

You don’t have to make big changes all at once. Small steps will get you where you want to go.

Additional Resources:

My Life Check- an interactive online tool  that helps people assess and track their heart health information and gain a better understanding of their risk of heart disease and stroke. 

Making Healthy Shifts (printable PDF)

Cut Down on Sodium (printable PDF)

Cut Down on Saturated Fat (printable PDF)

Your Guide to Lowering your Blood Pressure with DASH

Sources:

  1. American College of Cardiology
  2. Harvard Health Publishing
  3. American Heart Association
  4. Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion