It’s National Heart Month and an important time consider the foods you should be eating and actions you should be taking on a regular basis to improve your heart health. So many people think, “That could never happen to me!” However, the choices you make today will affect the life you live in 10, 15, 20, 30 years. Don’t put yourself at risk by not taking the steps to get healthy with diet and exercise. Give your heart a high-5 by doing the following things on a normal basis:
- Exercise! Exercise can help with weight loss and/or weight maintenance as well as contribute to helping lower your cholesterol and blood pressure. Exercise conditions your heart helping it get stronger and not work as hard to push blood through your body thus maintaining a low blood pressure. In addition, exercise helps raise your HDL, or good cholesterol. Having low HDL is a heart health risk factor, so get moving!
- Eat more fiber! The average person eats about 10-13 grams of fiber per day and the recommended amount is 25-38 grams per day! You can increase your fiber intake by eating more whole grains (especially oats), consuming lots of vegetables and fruits with skins and adding a serving or two of beans and nuts to your day. Soluble fiber (found in oats, fruits with skins, almonds, beans, legumes, seeds, etc.) can help lower bad cholesterol thus helping to improve your heart health. In addition, fiber helps you feel full faster, which can help you manage portion sizes at the next meal or snack.
- Eat your omega-3s! Healthy fats, specifically omega-3s found in fatty fish, walnuts, soybeans and healthy oils, can help raise your HDL or good cholesterol. Eating fatty fish a few times a week can help! You can also take fish oil, 2-4 grams per day, to get in your omega-3’s.
- Kiss your day with dark chocolate! Dark chocolate contains flavonoids called epicatechin and catechin that are good for you. Just two tablespoons of natural dark cocoa have more antioxidant (free radical fighting) capacity than four cups of green tea, one cup of blueberries and one and a half glasses of red wine! Now be careful, when dark chocolate turns to milk chocolate there is more sugar and less flavonoids making it less healthy and higher in calories. Dark chocolate is high in calories, so taste, enjoy (about 1-2 Hershey kiss sizes bites) and put it away until tomorrow!
- Know your numbers! It is important to know your cholesterol (good and bad) numbers, your blood pressure, your blood glucose and your waist circumference to understand your risk for heart disease. Many people don’t know anything is wrong because they never knew they were at risk! So, take time to go the doctor annually to get a check-up. It is worth your time and your heart will thank you later!