By Joli Guenther, MSSW, NASM
In recognition of American Heart Month, February is a great time to take a look at your health habits and give them a nudge in the heart healthy direction. According to the Center for Disease Control, Cardiovascular Disease is the leading cause of death in the United States with one in every three deaths occurring due to heart disease or stroke. The good news is heart disease is largely considered to be a lifestyle disease, which means that prevention efforts can make a big difference. The Million Hearts Initiative, launched in September of 2011 by the Department of Health and Human Services, is directed at preventing one million heart attacks and strokes over a five-year period through prevention efforts. Looking to help your lifestyle stack up? Here are a few resources and recommendations.
Learn the ABCS of Heart Health
If you have or are at risk for heart disease, the ABCS recommended by the CDC address the major risk factors for heart disease and help to prevent heart attacks and strokes. The ABCS include:
- Aspirin for people at risk: Talk to your doctor about whether taking an Aspirin daily is right for you.
- Blood Pressure Control: Get screened for high blood pressure and, if needed, begin effective treatment through lifestyle and/or medication.
- Cholesterol Management: Include cholesterol screening in your yearly physical. Talk to your doctor about your cholesterol numbers, what they mean and whether cholesterol medication is right for you.
- Smoking Cessation: If you need another reason for quitting, smoking puts your cardiovascular health at serious risk. If you smoke, talk to your doctor or seek support in quitting.
Choose a Diet that Supports Heart Health
Although the ABCS recommended by the CDC are an important part of preventing heart attacks and strokes for those who have or are at risk of heart disease, lifestyle is a vital part of preventing the onset of heart disease in the first place. A heart-healthy diet includes high amounts of fruits and vegetables and is low in trans-fat and sodium. If you're looking for guidance, check out the DASH Diet (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension), a lifelong approach to healthy eating that emphasizes the reduction of dietary sodium and increases in nutrients that support heart health. The DASH diet was developed to help in lowering blood pressure and has also been shown to support weight loss, reduce insulin resistance and improve cardiovascular health.
Do Your Workouts Add Up?
You know that getting enough exercise is important to keeping your heart healthy, but two out of every three Americans aren't getting enough. The benefits of exercise on your heart are both immediate and long term. A cardiovascular workout will lower your blood pressure as quickly as one hour post-workout. Benefits of regular exercise also include lower blood pressure, improved cholesterol profiles and a reduction in risk of Type II Diabetes. Do you find yourself wondering whether you're doing the right workouts when you use your treadmill, elliptical, or recumbent bike? A heart healthy workout can include both strength training and the type of cardio training you do on your home fitness equipment. In fact, strength training is now recommended by the American Heart Association for its cardiovascular benefits.
Moderate exercise (a heart rate of about 60 percent of your maximum) supports heart health if you're getting 30 minutes on most days of the week. More intense exercise (working at 70-90 percent of your maximum) accomplishes these results in less time. If intensity is your game, three 20-minute sessions per week will do it. To lose weight through your workouts, current recommendations are to try for 60-90 minutes of working out most days, though some activity is better than nothing and intense workouts are more likely to be effective in a shorter period of time. If you're looking for help in planning your workouts, Sparkpeople offers a range of heart healthy workouts for beginners through athletes.
Weigh In: How important is your long term health when you plan your workouts at home?