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Tips for heart health
By Lisa Franzen-Castle
Extension Nutrition Specialist, PhD, RD
UNL Panhandle Research & Extension Center
Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States and is a major cause of disability. It is also the leading cause of death and among the leading causes for hospitalization in Nebraska and the Panhandle.
February is American Heart Month, and not because of Valentine’s Day. Since 1963 Congress has required the president to proclaim February "American Heart Month” to raise awareness about heart disease.
Your best weapons to fight cardiovascular disease are to know your risks, understand warning signs, and have a healthy diet and lifestyle.
Check out the following tips on how to be heart smart:
- Know your risks. Risk factors commonly associated with heart disease are high cholesterol, high blood pressure, obesity, diabetes, tobacco use, unhealthy diet, physical inactivity, and secondhand smoke. Learn about your health risks at hearthub.org by taking risk assessments on diabetes, heart attack, and high blood pressure. Go to www.hearthub.org, scroll down the page and click on “What’s Your Risk?”
- Learn the warning signs. Some heart attacks are sudden and intense, whereas most start slowly, with mild pain or discomfort. Often people are not sure what is wrong and wait too long before getting help. Warning signs can include chest discomfort, discomfort in the upper body, shortness of breath, a cold sweat, nausea, or lightheadedness. The most common symptom for men and women is chest pain or discomfort. However, women are somewhat more likely than men to have other common symptoms, especially shortness of breath, nausea/vomiting, and back or jaw pain.
- Bump up the nutrition. Aim to eat a diet high in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean protein, fat-free and low-fat dairy and limit items that are high in sugar, sodium, and fats. Reading the Nutrition Facts Label on packages and containers can help you choose healthier products and make comparisons between similar products. Stock up on frozen veggies for quick microwave cooking. Buy fruits in different forms (dried, frozen, canned in water or juice, and fresh), to increase your options. Substitute a whole-grain product for a refined one, such as whole-wheat bread instead of white or brown rice instead of white. Include fat-free or low-fat milk at meals. Start with a lean protein choice and keep it lean by trimming away visible fat from meats and poultry and broiling, grilling, roasting, poaching, or boiling meat, poultry, or fish instead of frying.
- Get active. Research shows exercise helps prevent heart disease and obesity, and lowers blood pressure. Try to make a 30 minute physical activity goal every day; do at least 10 minutes of activity at a time. Choose activities you enjoy and can do regularly. Create a support system to help you stay active and find a group, friend, co-worker, or family member to get active with.
- Quit smoking. Cigarette smokers are two to three times more likely to die from coronary heart disease than non-smokers. Don’t waste time when it comes to quitting smoking. Within a few years of quitting, the risk of stroke and coronary artery disease are similar to non-smokers. Visit www.smokefree.gov for more information.
When it comes to changing your habits, there are lots of different ways to make it happen. Experiment and try different methods and find out what works best for you. Go to food.unl.edu for more food, nutrition, and health information.