It’s American Heart Month; eat smart and exercise

Yes, February has Valentine’s Day, which makes us think of flowers, chocolates and hearts. But every month attention should be given to that vital organ that keeps us alive.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, cardiovascular disease which includes heart disease, stroke and high blood pressure is the No. 1 killer of adults in the United States. The Heart Foundation states that cardiovascular disease claims 1 million American lives every year. Here are some more sobering statistics: More than 920,000 American will have a heart attack this year and nearly half of them will occur without prior symptoms or signs. Every 33 seconds, someone in the United States dies from cardiovascular disease, which researchers have noted is the equivalent to the deaths of Sept. 11th occurring repeatedly every day of the year.

The very first step towards avoiding cardiovascular disease and leading a healthier lifestyle is to clean up your diet. This means eating balanced meals wherein the plate is half veggies and fruit, one-quarter complex carbohydrates from grains and one-quarter lean clean protein either from animal or vegetable sources.

It is not the quantity of food that makes you healthy, it is the quality of the food. Eating nutrient-rich food that is full of the required vitamins, minerals, fiber, water, enzymes and electrolytes but that is low in calories is not difficult and will help you control your weight, your blood pressure and cholesterol and help you avoid cardiovascular disease. The focus should be on vegetable foods, with low fat dairy and animal proteins only comprising one-quarter of the volume that you take in.

You should also limit red meat, processed meats and sugary foods and drinks. Not only does this style of eating help you avoid cardiovascular disease but it also wards off diabetes, some cancers and a host of other lifestyle related diseases. Fish is a good source of high quality protein, especially consumption of oily fish such as salmon, has been shown to reduce the risk of heart disease. Twice a week is a good goal for fish consumption. Eating fish helps reduce the total cholesterol that you take in as well as other saturated fats that have been implicated in cardiovascular disease occurrence.

Reduce sodium in your diet by not salting your food and by eating fresh local foods that are not processed with salt. Too much salt raises your blood pressure, so no more than 1.500 mg of salt a day should not be taken. Some sources advise even lower amounts. Sodium is hidden in most processed foods so read labels or buy foods that don’t come in a package other than a peel.

Alcohol also raises the risk of cardiovascular disease. If you are a woman you should have not more than one drink a day, and if a man no more than two drinks a day. Better yet, try to skip days, as alcohol has no nutritional value at all and contains huge numbers of worthless calories. Alcohol is a toxin and will increase your waistline measurement leading to metabolic syndrome.

The Mayo clinic advises that men are considered overweight if their waistline is greater than 40 inches around. Women are considered overweight if their waistline measurement is greater than 35 inches. Toxins add to your waist circumference and this is the most important measurement to consider.

Other toxins such as cigarette smoke and secondhand smoke are also implicated in cardiovascular diseases. If you smoke, stop. and if others around you smoke, get away from them.

The final aspect of getting and staying healthy and protecting your heart is to exercise. The American Heart Association recommends at least 150 minutes per week of moderate exercise or 75 minutes per week of intense exercise. Working out just a half hour a day five days a week will bring you up to speed. Regular exercise is shown to combat heart and cardiovascular disease. At the very least try to burn up as many calories a day as you eat so that you don’t gain fat.

If you need to lose weight than obviously do more exercise and consume less calories. To lower your blood pressure or cholesterol, incorporate at least 40 minutes of moderate to vigorous aerobic exercise four times a week. As we age, it is more and more difficult to maintain a slender, healthy body, so calories must be cut back and exercise must be maintained in order just to hold the line. Strive to make smart choices when it comes to your diet and your lifestyle in order to avoid being one of the statistics.


Jane Riley is certified nutritional adviser. She can be reached at or (808) 212-1451


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