February is Heart Health Month. It’s also the month with Valentine’s Day in it.
The connection? Love your heart. Your heart is probably one of the hardest working muscles in the human body. It’s responsible for circulating oxygenated blood throughout your body, to nourish all vital organs and cells.
According to the Library of Congress, the human heart has the capability of beating three billion times during the life span of an average person. Yet, many people neglect their heart.
In America, heart disease and high blood pressure are on the rise. Heart disease among women is increasing and heart disease, according to healthfinder.gov, is the leading cause of death in men and women. Both of these, high blood pressure and heart disease, for the most part, with lifestyle changes, are preventable.
You may think it is too early to think about the heart health of your children, but it’s never too early to establish lifelong eating and physical activity habits that will ensure your children grow up to be healthy adults.
Cardiovascular disease is actually a group of diseases that affect the heart and blood vessels. It can start early in life, but being active can decrease the risk of developing this disease.
An active child is also one that will listen in school, sleep better, build healthy bones and muscles and have better self-esteem.
Here are some things that will help your heart stay healthy and will ensure you enjoy many more Valentine’s Days with those you love:
If you smoke, one of the lifestyle changes you can make is to quit. Maintaining a desirable and healthy weight will also help stave off future heart problems. Being physically active, even for as few as 30 minutes a day on most days of the week will also reap rewards
Eat a diet low in saturated fat. An example of saturated fat is butter or the white marbling found in most red meats. Protein choices should mainly come from lean sources (i.e. poultry or fish as well as dried beans and legumes.) Eggs, once thought to be a no-no, can be a part of a healthy diet.
The same thing is true of dairy choices. Healthier choices come from the fat-free or low-fat section. If you currently use whole milk and the idea of going “low-fat” is not in the picture, try mixing whole milk with one percent or two percent and gradually transition to a lower fat option.
In recipes calling for cheese, a little goes a long way, so use full-fat cheeses in moderation.
It goes without saying that fruits and vegetables are a big part of a diet to combat the development of heart disease. These two food groups can be consumed fresh, frozen, canned, pureed or dried.
If using canned fruit look for those canned products without added sugar. For juice, drink juice that says it is made from 100 percent juice.
Many juices have the word “drink” after them. These contain little, if any, real fruit juice and no fiber.
Finally, from the grain group (i.e. cereals, grains, bread) aim to make half of your daily grain intake of the whole variety. Whole grains contain all the parts of the grain, the parts with the nutrients and are a healthier choice than refined grain products that are overly processed and have the nutrients removed.
Whole grain products will say the words “made from whole grains” or contains “100 percent whole grain.” If in doubt, check the nutrition label on the package.
And, as always, if you have questions or concerns about your health, you are encouraged to consult your primary care physician or health care provider.
By staying physically active, and making a few dietary and lifestyle changes, you and your children can enjoy the benefits of good health. And, remember, little things do add up!
Happy Valentine’s Day!
Ann Bloom is a nutrition program assistant for the OSU Extension Service in Wallowa County. She can be contacted at 541-426-3143.