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Healthy Habits for Healthy Hearts

Was your new year’s resolution to be healthier? As you are getting settled into the new year, how are the changes going? Like many, you may have good intentions and may start strong but achieving a healthy lifestyle each day and sticking to new changes is hard and takes time. Many times, we make excuses, as we will start next week or next month. It may not be until a yearly physical or sick visit to your doctor that you are alerted to a problem. Is the damage already done or can you make changes to help the problem from getting worse? Prevention is key to help you feel your best. February is National Heart Month, dedicated to creating awareness of the importance of choosing a healthy lifestyle to prevent heart disease. It’s a leading cause of death in the United States and affects the strength and performance of your heart. Give up the excuses and give these healthy habits a try.

Start by making healthy food choices daily. Build your plate with half fruits and vegetables in a variety of colors to make your plate appealing and give you a variety of vitamins like Vitamin A, C, and K. Divide the other half of your plate with a protein choice and whole grains. Leaner meats and protein choices such as skinless poultry, seafood, beans, lentils, nuts, and seeds will give you a boost of nutrients of iron and B Vitamins. On the nutrition label look for “whole” in front of any type of grain and aim for at least half of your grains each day to be whole grains. When preparing your meals flavor with fresh or dried herbs in place of salt. This can help decrease your sodium which affects your blood pressure. Shop for foods on the perimeter of the store, as this will focus on fresh vs. packaged. Packaged foods tend to have higher amounts of sodium as it’s used to preserve them. Focus on grilling, baking, and broiling over frying and use olive oil for salads and low-temperature cooking and canola oil for other cooking and baking.

Your heart needs a balance of healthy foods paired with adequate physical activity. The Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans suggest at least 150 to 300 minutes of aerobic moderate-to-vigorous activity each week for adults, at least 60 minutes a day for children aged 6-17, and 3 hours per day for those aged 3-5. Any activity that helps to raise the heart rate is considered aerobic, and it’s important to increase the intensity over time to help your body adapt and prevent injury. Find activities that you enjoy doing so it will feel less like something you have to do and more like something you want to do. Exercise is also a great way to decrease stress. Added stress can affect the heart of your health. Other ways to help decrease stress can be gardening, listening to music, creating art, reading, or talking with a friend to name a few. Just like stress, not getting enough sleep each day can increase your risk for chronic diseases like heart disease. Adults should aim for at least 7 hours a day, teens at least 8, children at least 9, and additional to follow for those younger. Our bodies need sleep for our brains to work properly so give your body the rest it needs.

When visiting your doctor compare your blood pressure to your last visit, any changes? Keep track of the changes and if they are on the rise, think about any lifestyle changes you have made since your last visit. If your numbers are on the rise consider ways you can move more, choose healthier food choices, and decrease any stress that might not make you feel your best. Through your blood work check out your cholesterol levels. A higher LDL aka the bad cholesterol will cause more fat to build up in your blood which leads to more heart issues. On the other side, higher HDL, aka the good cholesterol will help keep your blood flowing and your heart happy. Cholesterol levels are impacted by your genetics, but also what you eat and other lifestyle choices you make. It’s a new day and a great day to start building healthier lifestyle habits to keep your heart beating healthier each day.