February is American Heart Month. It’s a time to bring awareness to heart disease and stroke, the number one killer in the United States, so you and people you love don’t become a statistic.
Be honest. Do you know your numbers? Your cholesterol numbers. You should have your cholesterol measured once a year after age 30, especially if you have a family history of high cholesterol or heart problems. High cholesterol can double the risk for heart disease. It’s entirely possible that your body will produce too much cholesterol, even if you take steps to lower it. However, many people are successful at lowering their cholesterol with some simple changes.
There are three ways you can make your cholesterol levels better.
1. Diet: Eat more vegetables, fruits and whole grains. Use low- or non-fat dairy products. Substitute olive, grapeseed, canola or safflower oil for butter, lard or solid-stick margarine. Avoid foods that contain saturated, hydrogenated, partially hydrogenated fats or trans-fats. Read those labels and might as well get out your dictionary. Better yet, buy fewer packaged foods. These tips will help you keep saturated fat low and fiber high, a win-win for managing cholesterol.
2. Exercise: Get 30 minutes of exercise most days of the week. Exercise can result in weight loss, better cholesterol levels and a more normal blood sugar. There is no such thing as bad exercise (unless you are over exercising). Some typical cardiovascular exercises include brisk walking, bicycling, and hiking. Look for hills for an extra challenge. Swimming is a great choice if you want a non-impact workout.
3. Weight Control: Take care of #1 and #2 so #3 happens naturally. Maintain a healthy weight. Extra weight can increase your blood pressure, level of bad cholesterol and your chance of developing diabetes. Rather than obsess over the number on the scale, make sure that your nutrition changes are shrinking your waistline. You want to decrease abdominal fat because fat in this area increases heart disease risk.
Don’t forget to have those numbers checked. If anything is out of whack, don’t panic… think of what you are doing for your meals and snacks and which smart changes you could make. Start by preparing your own healthy foods and cut back on high salt, high fat, big portion foods.
This month is particularly personal for me, as my mom has heart disease. She had quadruple bypass surgery one year ago this month. If you know someone who would benefit from this information on preventing heart disease, please share it. I’m posting articles throughout American Heart Month on simple things everyone can do to keep their heart healthy and strong.