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  • Katie Walden Vickers

Make It Your Mission to Get Heart Healthy This February!


February is American Heart Month, and there is no better time to focus on taking crucial steps to becoming heart healthy. Medical Center Barbour understands how daunting that task can be, though. After all, what does it mean to be heart healthy, and why does it matter? First, you need to realize the importance of heart health. The heart is one of the most vital organs in your body, It's four main functions are:

  • Pumping oxygenated blood to the other body parts

  • Pumping hormones and other vital substances to different parts of the body

  • Receiving deoxygenated blood and carrying metabolic waste products from the body and pumping it to the lungs for oxygenation

  • Maintaining blood pressure

So, you understand that the heart plays an important part in your body, but do you know that you can concretely change how healthy or unhealthy your heart is? Your lifestyle choices play a huge role in determining the health of your heart. Below are a few tips on keeping your heart ticking like it should.


Get your cholesterol and blood pressure checked.

Getting your cholesterol and blood pressure checked regularly at your primary care provider's office is one of the best things you can do for your heart. Why? Well, two of the major risk factors for heart disease are high blood pressure and high blood cholesterol. Your primary care provider can help you come up with a solid plan of action to lower your cholesterol and blood pressure and monitor your progress. If you need medicine to help you manage either, your doctor can prescribe you the medicine you need to keep them in check.

Clean up your diet.

Eating a diet high in fruits and vegetables and low in saturated fats, trans fats, and added sugars is a great way to keep your heart functioning well. So what foods should you include in your diet to keep your heart healthy? Listed below is a great, comprehensive list that you should include:

Heart Healthy Foods List:

  • Fruits such as apples, bananas, oranges, pears, grapes, and prunes

  • Vegetables such as leafy greens (spinach, collard greens, kale, cabbage), broccoli, and carrots

  • Whole grains such as plain oatmeal, brown rice, and whole-grain bread or tortillas

  • Fat-free or low-fat dairy foods such as milk, cheese, or yogurt

  • Fish high in omega-3 fatty acids ( such as salmon, tuna, and trout)

  • Lean meats such as 95% lean ground beef or pork tenderloin or skinless chicken or turkey

  • Eggs

  • Nuts and seeds

  • Legumes such as kidney beans, lentils, chickpeas, black-eyed peas, and lima beans

  • Canola, corn, olive, safflower, sesame, sunflower, and soybean oils (not coconut or palm oil)

  • Nuts such as walnuts, almonds, and pine nuts

  • Nut and seed butters

  • Seeds (sesame, sunflower, pumpkin, or flax)

  • Avocados

  • Soy based products (tofu)

Maintain a Healthy Weight

One of the best things to do for your heart is to keep your BMI in a healthy range. A healthy weight for adults is usually when the body mass index (BMI) is between 18.5 and 24.9. Extra weight makes the heart have to work harder. The heart becomes stressed and blood vessels get too clogged to receive and pass enough oxygen to the rest of the body sufficiently.

To calculate your BMI, simply plug in your weight and height into this BMI calculator. If you are carrying around extra weight, talk to your doctor about ways to safely lower your body fat. Your primary care physician can guide you in your efforts by educating you in proper nutrition and exercise to get you to a healthy BMI.


Lower Your Stress Levels

Stress can really wreak havoc on your heart. Research suggests that an emotionally upsetting event can serve as a trigger for a heart attack or angina in some people. Stress can contribute to high blood pressure and other heart disease risk factors. That's why it's so important to manage your stress in a healthy way.

To reduce your stress try healthy techniques like:

  • Talking to a professional counselor

  • Joining a stress management program

  • Practicing meditation

  • Exercising

  • Trying relaxation techniques

  • Talking with friends, family, or religious support systems

Get Some Exercise

Physical activity is good for your body overall, but it is especially good for your heart. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans recommends that, each week, adults should get at least:

  • 2 hours and 30 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity (for example, 30 minutes 5 days a week), or

  • 1 hour and 15 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity (for example, 25 minutes 3 days a week), or

  • A combination of both moderate-intensity and vigorous-intensity activity.

Aerobic exercise benefits your lungs the most. This is any exercise in which your heart beats faster and you use more oxygen than usual, such as running, cycling, and swimming. Keep in mind, you don't have to do all of this exercise at once. Breaking up exercise into smaller bouts adds up and still counts!


Get Some Sleep

Sleep is very important to your heart health because your heart and blood vessels needs sleep to repair overnight. Not getting enough sleep or good-quality sleep over time can raise your risk for chronic health problems like heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke, and more. Taking steps to improve your sleep with help you maintain a healthy heart for years to come.

Below are some tips for good, quality shut-eye:

  • Get enough daily physical activity.

  • Avoid nicotine altogether.

  • Avoid caffeine, especially near bedtime.

  • Avoid heavy or large meals within a couple hours of bedtime.

  • Avoid alcoholic drinks before bedtime.

  • Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day.

  • Use the hour before bed for quiet time. Avoid exercise and bright light.

  • Take a hot bath or use relaxation techniques before bed.

  • Keep your bedroom quiet, cool, and dark.

Now that you know some tips that will help you take care of your heart, apply them to your life every day to make this month-and every month- a heart healthy one!

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