Develop a heart-healthy lifestyle

February 13, 2008|By LYNN LITTLE

When we think of heart disease, we often think of men, but heart disease also is the No. 1 killer of women in the U.S. In fact, one in every 2.5 American women will die of heart disease or stroke, according to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. By comparison, one in 30 women will die from breast cancer.

Assess your heart disease risks

Risk factors you can't change include:

· Being age 55 or older for women (45 or older for men).

· Having a family history of early heart disease - your father or a brother diagnosed before age 55, or your mother or a sister diagnosed before age 65.

Risk factors you can change include:

· Smoking

· Having high blood pressure

· Having high blood cholesterol

· Being overweight or obese


· Being physically inactive

· Having diabetes

February is American Heart Month and a good time to evaluate eating and lifestyle patterns that might help reduce your risk factors and improve your overall heart health.

The American Heart Association recommends that you try to:

· Balance calorie intake and physical activity to achieve or maintain a healthy body weight.

· Consume a diet rich in vegetables and fruits.

· Choose whole-grain, high-fiber foods.

· Consume fish, especially oily fish, at least twice a week.

· Choose a diet low in fat, saturated fat, trans fat and cholesterol.

· Minimize consuming beverages and foods with added sugars.

· Choose and prepare foods with little or no added salt.

· Consume alcohol in moderation.

Each year on your birthday, schedule a checkup. Have your blood pressure, cholesterol and glucose levels checked, and ask your doctor to help you reach or maintain a healthy weight. Be sure to follow your physician's recommendations, including taking prescribed medications.

Ten simple steps

1. Tune in as you tone up. Add more physical activity to your life by stepping, marching or jogging in place for at least 15 minutes a day while watching your favorite TV shows. Increase your activity by five minutes each week until you're getting at least 30 to 60 minutes of physical activity most days of the week.

2. Grab some water when you go. Take a water bottle along with you. Water will keep you hydrated and the bottle's weight will strengthen your arms.

3. Remember: Out of sight, out of mouth. Keep packages of unhealthy food hidden in the pantry. Put raw veggies and fruits in plain sight in the refrigerator and keep healthy snacks in the front of the pantry so that's what you see when you open the door.

4. Eat right to control cholesterol. Eating foods high in saturated fat can lead to high cholesterol. To help keep your cholesterol levels down, eat foods low in saturated fat, such as lean chicken or turkey (roasted or baked, with skin removed), fruits and veggies, low-fat or fat-free dairy products and whole grains.

5. Shake the salt habit. To help lower high blood pressure, limit your salt intake. Salt might be disguised in food labels as sodium alginate, sodium sulfite, sodium caseinate, disodium phosphate, sodium benzoate, sodium hydroxide, monosodium glutamate (MSG) and sodium citrate.

6. Boost flavor to help lose weight. Treat your family to tasty meals from a collection of more than 100 recipes in "Keep the Beat: Heart Healthy Recipes" at You can either download a copy or obtain a printed copy for $4 through the Web site or by calling 301-592-8573 or 240-629-3255 (TTY).

7. Kick butts. If you smoke, quit. Try this one-week, four-step way to snuff your habit. On Day 1, cut the number of cigarettes you smoke by half. On Day 3, cut the number of cigarettes you smoke in half again. On Day 5, cut your smoking in half again. On Day 7, your Quit Day, quit!

8. Be a good loser. Excess weight increases your risk of heart disease, stroke and diabetes. To achieve steady, painless weight loss, take it easy. Each day, if you eat 200 to 300 calories less than you would normally consume and exercise at least 30 minutes on most or all days of the week, you'll get closer to your goal and be able to achieve weight loss that's steady and painless.

9. Don't let a slip keep you down. If you get off your exercise schedule, have a cigarette or mess up on a meal, immediately get back on track toward re-establishing a healthy lifestyle.

10. To maintain momentum with exercising, losing weight or quitting smoking, keep track of and reward your achievements by doing something you enjoy.

Another resource from the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute is "The Healthy Heart Handbook for Women." This 122-page, full-color, 20th-anniversary edition of "The Healthy Heart Handbook for Women" provides the most recent information on women's heart disease and practical suggestions for reducing your own risk.

You can download a copy or obtain a printed copy for $4 through the Web site or from the NHLBI Information center.

Lynn Little is a family and consumer sciences educator with University of Maryland Cooperative Extension in Washington County.

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