Have you noticed that there is a lot of focus around the idea of heart and love right now? There's McDonald's "Choose Love" and their Superbowl spot "Pay with Lovin'". I have many friends who work for Southwest Airlines, and they talk about the heart that SWA has always had. Their recently unveiled logo and look affirm that. There are plenty of other ads capitalizing on the theme because Valentine's Day is Saturday, and because it's Heart Month.
We've got this interesting play on words and imagery going on in our culture this month - connecting physical heart to emotional heart. One of the best ways to love your friends and family is to take care of your health. I wrote a little piece on loving your dad back in June. It's hard to watch those you love choose to not prioritize their health. If you won't do it for yourself, make healthy choices out of care and concern those who love YOU. According to the CDC, heart disease is the leading cause of death in America. So let's do something about it.
What does it mean to take of your heart? What are the warning signs to look out for, and what are the lifestyle choices that can make a difference? I'm glad you asked.
Risk Factors and Warning Signs
There are things you can't control:
Demographics: your risk increases with age, if you are a woman, and if you are black
Genetics: how you carry your weight (body shape), your sensitivity to salt, the amount of cholesterol your body naturally makes, etc
Family History: if someone in your family has had heart disease, you are at greater risk
Your History: once you've had a heart attack, you are more likely to have another
Know your numbers:
If you don't know your numbers, I suggest you make an appointment with your primary care doctor (or that you find a primary care doctor!). This post is an overview, but if you want to learn more about cholesterol and blood pressure right now, I recommend the American Heart Association.
These numbers can quickly become sobering or overwhelming for you, if you're out of range on a number of them. But remember that the number doesn't define you. It does give you an indicator of where you are today. The direction of that number is important - it will help you know where you will be tomorrow or in 5 years. Progress is important! For example, you can decrease your risk significantly by getting your LDL cholesterol down from 140 to 130, even though it's not in the normal range yet.
I found this great infographic on the Nature's Sunshine website, and thought it was worth sharing:
Get active! Regular, moderate physical activity will help lower your blood pressure, control stress, and maintain or lose weight. Aim for 30 minutes a day. If 30 minutes is already part of your routine, consider upping the intensity or the duration. Don't forget, it doesn't have to mean going to the gym, or running a marathon. Walking, dancing and playing with your kids all count - whatever you will enjoy!
Taste the rainbow. Eat more fruits and veggies. The more variety, the better. Want to get your kids involved? Let them pick out one item of each color at the grocery store. Find a way to incorporate in your week. Take a photo of your meals this week - what colors are missing? Use that as a guide to try something new.
Make half whole. What?!? This one is about whole grains. The recommendation is that half of the grains you eat each day should be whole grains. Meaning whole wheat, oats, quinoa, barley, brown rice, wheat pasta, etc. The fiber, vitamins and minerals you get from the whole grains are all benefits for your heart. Plenty of gluten-free options out there, too, so don't let that be a deterrent.
Stop shaking. The salt, that is. Enjoy more fresh foods and more foods that you cook at home to limit your sodium intake. Choose reduced sodium or no-salt-added options when you can. And when you eat out - do NOT add any more salt. Restaurants cook for the masses, and there is ample salt in that dish. Be especially mindful of soups, sauces and dressings. There are plenty of other ways to season dishes. An easy way to judge the label of a food? If you aim for about 1 mg of sodium per 1 calorie, you're on the right track.
Fat matters. Choose healthy fats for your heart. While saturated fats and trans fats have historically been linked to heart disease, unsaturated fats have been linked to a reduction in heart disease. Aim for monounsaturated fats and omega-3 fats for the best results. Where will you find these? Omega-3 fats are found in walnuts and flaxseed, and fatty fish like salmon, tuna and sardines. Monounsaturated fats are found in avocado, most nuts and seeds, olives and canola oil.
You're sweet enough. More and more research is showing the sugar is even worse for your heart than salt or fat. Yikes! So be mindful of how much added sugar you've got in your diet. It's not just the desserts (though that's a major factor!) - it's even things that seem healthy like pasta sauce and yogurt. Consider most yogurts the equivalent of pudding - eat them as dessert. Again, small steps can work here, too. Cut portions in half. Use fruit to satisfy that sweet tooth. Buy really good chocolate and just have a square at a time.
This is a big topic, and I have just scratched the surface. Stay tuned for more heart healthy facts and tips. But for now...
What questions do you have about heart health? What habits have you put in place to love your heart?