5 Ways to Be Good to Your Heart

February is Heart Health Month, making this the perfect time to talk about ways to be good to your heart. It is estimated that 80 percent of heart disease and stroke events are preventable. In addition, heart disease is the #1 killer of women. Given these staggering statistics, I encourage you to make these heart healthy behaviors a priority in 2016. A few healthy changes can make a big difference in preventing or treating heart disease in women.
#1: Move more. The good news is you don’t have to exercise like you’re training for a marathon to get your heart in shape. For example, the American Heart Association recommends 30 minutes of walking each day for a healthy heart. Of course, it doesn’t have to be walking, but any activity that gets you moving, your heart pumping and your blood circulating. For many of my clients, having a buddy (or buddies) helps them stay motivated. Whether that’s a walking partner, taking an exercise class with friends or talking to a friend on the phone while exercising, the connection time is important for many women. If you’re someone who avoids the gym at all cost, there are some great DVDs for indoor walking and aerobic exercise that can be done in the comfort and privacy of your own home. Keep in mind some types of yardwork and housecleaning can count toward your activity time as well. Other options include walking your dog or a neighbor’s dog, taking a walk with your child or signing up for a dance class. Choosing activities you enjoy increases the odds you will continue after the first few weeks.
#2: Stop smoking. If you smoke, quitting is the most important change you can make for your health. Smokers have a higher risk of heart disease, even more risk than weight gain. Smoking damages the entire circulatory system, can reduce good cholesterol (HDL) and impair breathing, making it harder to be active. Talk with your doctor about smoking cessation programs and options that are right for you.
#3: Check your blood pressure. High blood pressure is a major risk factor for heart disease and stroke. Keeping blood pressure in a healthy range helps decrease the strain on the heart and arteries, keeping them healthy longer. Losing weight, lowering sodium intake and taking medication when recommended by your doctor can all help to keep blood pressure in a healthy range.
#4: Check your cholesterol.  Cholesterol occurs naturally in our bodies, but when it gets out of balance, it can lead to heart disease, heart attack and stroke. When there is too much LDL cholesterol in the blood, it combines with white blood cells and forms plaque in the blood vessels. As women approach menopause, cholesterol will sometimes increase as hormones change. I encourage my clients to keep records of previous cholesterol measurements, so they can take action early and make lifestyle changes if cholesterol starts to rise. When cholesterol is controlled, your blood vessels have a better chance of staying clear, avoiding blockages that lead to heart disease, heart attack and stroke. Exercising, not smoking and eating a heart-healthy diet make a big impact on lowering cholesterol.
#5: Talk with a registered dietitian nutritionist. Instead of another fad-diet, learn the best heart health plan for you. It may include an individualized weight loss plan or specific information about foods rich in soluble fiber, antioxidants and healthy fats your body needs to keep your heart strong and healthy. A nutritionist will help create an individualized, healthy eating plan that includes realistic, practical choices and habits you can maintain long term.
For additional heart-healthy tips and strategies, follow my blog during the month of February. I will be posting regularly about heart health for women at www.jillwestrd.com/nutritionblog. Feel free to ask questions and join the conversation!
Jill West, R.D.N., is a registered dietitian nutritionist and certified health coach with a private practice in Lafayette. She works with women, families and student athletes to help them make lasting changes that improve their health and performance. Jill is a professional speaker and author of the book 400 Moms. To learn more, call 925-310-5545 or visit www.jillwestrd.com or www.400moms.com


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