February 2, 2009

Tips for a Healthy Heart

Nan Jensen, Famlies & Consumers Agent, Pinellas County Extension

Heart disease is the number 1 cause of death in the United States. Since February is American Heart Month, it’s a perfect time to take action since a healthy diet and lifestyle are your best weapons to fight heart disease. Be good to your heart and yourself by taking these simple steps below.

Don't smoke, and if you do, quit. People who smoke are two to six times more likely to suffer a heart attack than those who don’t. Smoking also boosts the risk of stroke and cancer.

Aim for a healthy weight. Overweight and obesity cause many preventable deaths. Start by knowing what you should be eating and drinking to maintain your weight. Don’t eat more calories than you know you can burn up every day. To help you burn more calories, increase the amount and intensity of your physical activity. Successful and lasting weight loss requires a permanent change of lifestyle, not a brief effort to drop pounds. Losing between 1/2 pound to 2 pounds per week is a reasonable amount to aim for. If you have a lot of weight to lose, a registered dietitian can help you develop a sensible plan for gradual weight loss.

Get moving. Commit to include more physical active in your daily routine. Thirty minutes of moderate-intensity activity on most, preferably all, days of the week is a goal to work toward. If you can’t do at least 30 minutes at one time, try three 10-minute sessions throughout the day.

Eat a heart healthy diet. The best way to start is by choosing nutrient rich foods that have vitamins, minerals, fiber and other nutrients but are lower in calories. Choose foods like vegetables, fruits, whole-grain products and low fat or fat free dairy products. Fruits and vegetables are loaded with vitamins, minerals and fiber. Eating a variety of fruits and vegetables may help you control your weight and your blood pressure. Whole-grain foods contain fiber that can help lower your blood cholesterol and help you feel full, which may help you manage your weight.

Limit your intake of saturated fat, trans fat, and cholesterol. Lean meats and poultry without skin and prepared without added saturated and trans fat are good choices. Fish like salmon and trout containing omega-3 fatty acids may help lower your risk of death from heart disease. So try to eat fish at least twice a week. Cut back on foods containing partially hydrogenated vegetable oils to reduce trans fat in your diet. Make your dairy food choices like milk, yogurt and cheese, low fat or fat free.

Choose and prepare foods with little or no salt. Aim to eat less than 2,300 milligrams of sodium per day. Use the Nutrition Facts panel to guide your food choices.

Finally, remember to watch those portions. If you want to know what counts as a portion from the foods groups go to

Know your numbers. Ask your doctor to check your blood pressure, blood glucose, and cholesterol (total, HDL, LDL, triglycerides).

Blood pressure goal is 120/80 or less
  • Less than 120 systolic and less than 80 diastolic is normal
  • 120-139 systolic and 80-89 diastolic is considered pre-hypertension
  • Blood pressure readings of 140 and higher are serious and require medical evaluation and treatment.

Blood glucose (mg/dl) -fasting
  • Below 100 is normal
  • 100-125 is considered pre-diabetes
  • 126 or higher requires additional testing and treatment

A goal of less than 200 is desirable for total cholesterol, but the HDL and LDL levels are also important in equation.

Total cholesterol less than 200 mg/dl
  • Low- density lipoprotein or LDL (“bad”) less than 100 mg/dl
  • High- density lipoprotein or HDL (“good”) more than 60 mg/dl
  • Triglycerides less than 150 mg/dl

For more information on promoting heart health, go to

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