National heart month has been celebrated in the United States every February since 1964 when Lyndon Johnson declared the first American Heart Month. The month is dedicated to increasing awareness of heart disease as the leading cause of death for both men and women in the United States. Many activities and awareness programs are scheduled during the month including, National Wear Red Day, to increase awareness of heart disease among women, congenital heart awareness week and heart failure awareness week. American Heart Month focuses on educating individuals regarding healthy lifestyle choices with the goal of preventing medical conditions that lead to heart disease. Here are some heart-healthy tips to get you started on improved cardiovascular fitness.
Maintaining a healthy weight is good for overall health, as well as heart health. Being overweight increases your risks not only for heart disease but also for diabetes, high blood pressure, and some cancers. When you are overweight, your heart and cardiovascular system must work harder to pump blood through your circulatory system, over time this increased workload causes damage to the cardiovascular system. Figuring out how many calories you need each day is the first step toward managing your weight. Calorie requirements are dependent on your age, gender and level of physical activity. To maintain your weight, you must use up at least as many calories as you take in each day. To lose weight, you must take in fewer calories than you burn. For information on calculating your daily caloric need go to www.active.com/fitness/calculators/calories
The American Heart Association (AHA) has diet and lifestyle recommendations to guide individuals in making healthy choices. Limiting saturated fats, trans fat, sodium and choosing lean cuts of red meat in your diet can help lower your blood pressure and your cholesterol levels. Controlling blood pressure and cholesterol are key in preventing damage to the heart and the cardiovascular system. The American Heart Association recommendations include eating an overall healthy diet that emphasizes:
- A variety of fruits and vegetables
- Whole grains
- Low-fat dairy products
- Skinless poultry and fish
- Nuts and legumes
- Non-tropical vegetable oils
Regular physical activity is one of the best things you can do for your overall health. It has multiple health benefits, including helping to control your weight, reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease, strengthening your bones and muscles and improving your mental health and mood. For overall cardiovascular health, the AHA recommends 30 minutes of moderate activity 5 times a week for a total of 150 minutes or 25 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity 3 times a week for a total of 75 minutes. In addition to cardiovascular activity, moderate to high-intensity muscle strengthening activity is recommended 2 days per week. If these recommendations seem overwhelming, start with small goals, such as a 10-minute walk during your lunch hour. Try incorporating extra steps into your day by parking away from the entrance at work or the grocery store or taking the stairs instead of the elevator. Find an activity you enjoy, you are more likely to continue long-term with something you find pleasurable. If you are unable to commit to 30 minutes of activity at a time, break it up into 10-minute intervals. Remember lack of physical activity is a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease.
Celebrate American Heart Month with a commitment to lifestyle changes to improve your cardiovascular health. Clean up your diet by eating lean protein, fruits and vegetables, and whole grains, while minimizing foods with refined sugars and saturated fat. Get moving, make a resolution to increase your daily activity level. You can start in small increments and progress to longer periods of time. For more information on American Heart Month and lifestyle, recommendations go to http://www.heart.org/.