Sticking with a healthy heart plan

4H youth learning about My Plate, healthy eating, and physical fitness.

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Remember that New Year’s resolution to diet and exercise?

You can increase your odds of sticking to your weight-control plan by surrounding yourself with supportive people, setting realistic goals and logging your activities, a University of Florida expert says.

February is American Heart Month, a good time to learn more about cardiovascular diseases and how to stick with a weight-loss program. One in six people who try to fight the fat actually stay with their plans over a sustained period, said Anne Mathews, a UF/IFAS assistant professor in food science and human nutrition and a registered dietician.

But there’s hope.

“Making any changes can be beneficial,” Mathews said. “Making changes can also be difficult. So if you’re thinking about making a change in your health behaviors, some of the things we know will help are to get help from a registered dietitian or a doctor, get help from the people around you ─ asking them to help keep you more active. Keep track of what you’re doing, such as how often you drink water and eat fruits and vegetables. Plan ahead and problem-solve any foreseen challenges such as a change in schedule. And recognize your successes.”

Exercise and diet can help people avoid cardiovascular disease including hypertension – or chronically high blood pressure ─ strokes, atherosclerosis and heart attacks.

“We are all at risk for cardiovascular disease,” Mathews said.

Aging is a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease. It doesn’t help if you’re inactive or otherwise gain weight, she said.

About a third of adults die of cardiovascular disease, Mathews said. Men develop such diseases at earlier age than women, but after age 60, the chances are equal. Estrogen protects women until menopause. Then women’s chances increase.

Women should be careful about heart attack signs. They might think they have heartburn or acid reflux when they’re really having a heart attack, Mathews said. Men are more likely to experience a sharp chest pain and shortness of breath.

Mathews endorses the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension – or DASH diet – developed at to help combat high blood pressure. The diet encourages consuming at least seven servings of fruits and vegetables a day, two to three servings of low-fat dairy foods and plenty of nuts and fish.

“That pattern has been shown to be very effective at reducing blood pressure,” she said.

Mathews also strongly cautions people not to smoke as it increases your chances for cardiovascular diseases.

Cardiovascular diseases not only limit Americans’ lifespans, they cost a lot of money: Mathews quoted a projected figure published in 2013 in the journal Circulation that estimates the US will spend $900 billion in 2015 in direct and indirect costs for treating cardiovascular diseases.

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Cutline: Thirty minutes of exercise daily is a key to maintaining a healthy heart, said Anne Mathews, an assistant professor of food science and human nutrition and a registered dietitian at UF/IFAS. Eating plenty of fruits and vegetables is another key.

Credit: UF/IFAS file photo

By Brad Buck, 352-294-3303,

Source: Anne Mathews, 352-392-1991,





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Posted: February 6, 2015

Category: Health & Nutrition, UF/IFAS, Work & Life
Tags: Food Science And Human Nutrition

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