Love abounds in February. Chocolate, flowers, sweet wine-they all symbolize the love you feel for your special someone. But this February, remember that love isn't just for those around you. Take time to consider what you can do to love yourself by becoming healthier.
February is Heart Health Month. This is a good time to reflect on what you are doing right for your heart and what steps you might take to achieve greater heart health.
The number one cause of death in the US is heart disease. Implementing just a few of the steps below will help keep your heart healthy and strong and keep you around for many more celebrations with loved ones for years to come.
1. Know your numbers. If you haven't had your blood cholesterol levels checked within the past few years, talk to your doctor. Explore the American Heart Association's website (www.heart.org) to understand more about cholesterol.
2. Choose fats wisely. Saturated fats found in high fat meat and dairy foods (full fat ground beef; whole and 2 percent milk; high fat pork products like bologna, sausage and bacon) raise LDL cholesterol levels and over time lead to plaque buildup in arteries, which in turn leads to heart disease.
3. Avoid trans fats, which are the worst of all forms of fat. Found in snack cakes, cookies, chips and other snack foods, these not only raise bad cholesterol levels, they also lower good cholesterol too.
4. Choose olive oil and canola oil as the main type of fats used when cooking. Both are great sources of mono-unsaturated fats (good for blood cholesterol levels), inexpensive and work well in most dishes.
5. Limit your intake of added sugars. Added sugars are those added to foods during processing to increase sweetness. Soda and other sweetened beverages are the number one source of added sugars in the American diet. But, they are also in foods which you might not expect. Some common culprits include yogurt, breakfast cereal and other low calorie snack foods. Over time, added sugars raise blood triglyceride levels and lead to an expanded waist line-two factors which are both bad for your heart.
6. Keep your blood pressure in check. Although there are lots of factors which impact blood pressure, keeping your BMI in check and limiting your salt intake are two major ways you can stay healthy. Check food labels and try to keep sodium intake to less than 1 teaspoon (2400 mg per day). Eating an abundance of fresh fruits and vegetables will increase your potassium intake, which helps counteract sodium's impact on blood pressure.
7. Increase your intake of fish, particularly fish high in omega-3 fatty acids, like salmon, tuna and sardines. Omega-3's are anti-inflammatory and promote a healthy heart by lowering LDL triglyceride levels.
8. Stay physically active. Enjoying 30-60 minutes of physical activity per day will help keep your weight in check and help relieve stress.
Ready for a heart make over? Check out the American Heart Association's The Simple 7 website (www.mylifecheck.heart.org) and get a personalized assessment and action plan for simple ways to improve your health and quality of life.