Celebrate American Heart Month by Taking Steps to Protect Your Heart
With February designated as American Heart Month, it’s the perfect time to focus on important steps to lower your risk of heart disease, the No. 1 killer of American men and women. A healthy lifestyle is the first line of defense in preventing the development of heart disease, according to new guidelines. These lifestyle guidelines, issued by the American College of Cardiology and American Heart Association encourage all adults to follow recommendations for healthy eating habits and regular physical activity to reduce the risk of heart disease.
The guidelines encourage a dietary pattern which emphasizes vegetables, fruits, and whole grains; includes fat-free or low-fat milk and milk products, poultry, fish, legumes, non-tropical vegetable oils, and nuts; and limits intake of sweets, sugar-sweetened beverages, and red meats. Examples of heart-healthy dietary patterns include the DASH dietary pattern, USDA Food Patterns, or the American Heart Association Diet.
The DASH diet, which has been shown to help prevent high blood pressure and other risk factors for heart disease, is a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, fat-free or low-fat milk products, whole grains, fish, poultry, seeds, and nuts. It contains less sodium, sweets, added sugar-containing beverages, fats, and red meats than the typical American diet. The DASH diet is rich in potassium, magnesium, calcium, and protein, nutrients provided by milk.
Regular physical activity is an important lifestyle measure to lower the risk of heart disease. Engaging in moderate to vigorous intensity aerobic exercise, such as brisk walking, for an average of 40 minutes three to four times a week is encouraged. If this physical activity goal is difficult to achieve, it’s important to appreciate that some physical activity is better than none.
In addition to eating right and exercising regularly, health professionals recommend other steps leading to a healthier heart. These include knowing your cholesterol, blood pressure, and body mass numbers, not using tobacco, and knowing your family history.
A new study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition reports that following diet and lifestyle recommendations to reduce the risk of heart disease is also associated with better bone health.