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Know Your Heart

Feb 13, 01:42 PM

Food and Fitness Fundamentals

February is American Heart Month! Did you know that heart disease is the leading cause of death for both American men and women

It is estimated that every 25 seconds an American will have a coronary event, such as heart attack, and every one minute a person will die as a result. With a majority of Americans being overweight or obese, their risk factors for heart disease, as well as stroke and diabetes significantly increase. Learn more about risks.

But there is good news! A majority of heart disease is preventable! The first step is to know your own personal risk factors for heart disease. Once these are known, you have the opportunity to take the needed measures to improve them. Cholesterol levels and blood pressure can often be managed with the establishment of healthy lifestyle habits, such as eating well, staying active, maintaining a healthy weight and not smoking.

Do you know your individual risk factors for heart disease, and what actions to take to improve them?
Ideally, learning good eating habits, keeping physically active and achieving and sustaining proper weight are taught and practiced in early childhood. However, once we are old enough to understand the significance of our actions, we are no longer children; therefore making healthier lifestyle choices later in life is certainly better than not at all.

Some risk factors for heart disease such as family history, ethnicity, age and gender are clearly not within our control. However, there are many other risk factors that we can indeed manage, and possibly even prevent. Taking responsibility and acknowledging areas that require attention now, is the first step to achieving better health for the years to come.

The following are major risk factors heart disease

High Blood Pressure
High blood pressure (hypertension) is the third leading cause of death in the United States. It is also referred to as the silent killer, as it often goes unnoticed and without symptoms sometimes for years. The cause is frequently unknown; however, with an appropriate low sodium diet, exercise, and if warranted by your physician, medication, hypertension can usually be controlled. Therefore it is crucial to know your numbers. 120/80 mm hg or below is recommended. Learn more about understanding blood pressure readings.

High Cholesterol
Cholesterol is a fatty substance produced by the liver and is also brought into the body when consuming high fat foods. When fat concentrations are too high in the blood, it can promote atherosclerosis and other heart disease. It is important to know your baseline numbers especially for total cholesterol, HDL (the good cholesterol) LDL (bad cholesterol) and triglycerides. Once the initial numbers are established, you have a good opportunity to fine tune or maintain them by practicing healthy eating habits, lifestyle and regular exercise.

Studies have shown that up to three-fourths of people with diabetes eventually die from some aspect of heart or blood vessel disease. Diabetes risk factors alone spin off significant health concerns that contribute to heart disease as well as strokes and kidney complications. It is very important to know your blood glucose levels and monitor it if needed. This will allow the opportunity to address dietary and lifestyle behaviors while the disease is still in the early stages.

Tobacco use
Tobacco use contributes to atherosclerosis and other heart disease by increasing the clotting factor of the blood, and causing plaque to buildup on the inside of the artery walls. Nicotine also contributes to high blood pressure. Learn more.

Establishing a healthy well balanced diet is key for both prevention, as well as management of many chronic illnesses and diseases. It is important to know what foods are most beneficial as well as which foods are most detrimental. A diet high in saturated fats and cholesterol contributes to atherosclerosis, and consuming more than the recommended amounts of sodium often leads to high blood pressure. It is encouraged to eat a wide variety of wholesome low fat low, sodium foods. Consuming fruits and vegetables rich in color provide many vitamins, minerals and antioxidants needed to sustain a healthy body. And of course, being cognizant of calories in vs. calories out, aids with weight management. Learn more

Physical Activity
Being involved in regular physical activity is of utmost importance when striving for overall good health. Not only does staying active help reduce heart disease risk factors; it also aids in management of other illnesses such as obesity and diabetes. Benefits of frequent workouts include reducing high blood pressure, high triglycerides levels and increasing HDL (good cholesterol). Unless instructed otherwise by your physician, try to achieve 30-60 minutes of moderately intense aerobic exercise most days. Learn more

Obesity is linked to many diseases, such as diabetes, high blood pressure, high LDL (bad cholesterol) and triglycerides, and low HDL (good cholesterol). Measuring waist circumference is a common tool used in assessing heart disease and diabetes risk factors, as the location of body fat is of great significance. Learn more
Waist circumference recommendations for males are 40 inches or less, and females are 35 inches or less. Achieving and maintaining a healthy body weight considerably reduces many diseases and illness along with heart disease. Learn more

Alcohol Consumption
Some studies have shown that moderate alcohol consumption may promote heart health. However when overindulging, alcohol is linked to high triglycerides, hypertension, as well as many other chronic diseases. It is important to follow the current recommendations for drinking alcohol; no more than one alcoholic drink per day for women and two or less drinks per day for men.

As a continuation of my last two blogs on changing desired behaviors and keeping New Year’s resolutions, we have now reviewed the major risk factors involved in heart disease. Follow through and assess your own health and personal well being, and remember, February is a great time to know your heart!
For more information on heart health, visit the American Heart Association

Until next time, here’s to healthy eating!

Lori Dodds, RD, LD, is a Registered Dietitian at The Corvallis Clinic Nutrition Services Department.

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