5 Tips on Improving Heart Health

February is heart month and what better time to commit to giving back to yourself and your health.

Heart disease is a silent and deadly killer. It is the leading cause of death for both men and women in Canada and the United States. But the good news is that with a few small changes, you can make a positive difference in your and maybe even someone else’s life. Here’s how…

1. Become CPR Certified

Becoming AED/CPR certified does save lives and only takes a few hours to complete. In 14 years of service, I’ve had to use my learning just once, but it was worth it. A colleague and I saved 54-year old man’s life. Today, he has a healthy new lease on life. Give heart – save a life.

2. Physical Activity

Being physically active reduces the risk for heart attack, promotes weight management, and aids in lowering blood pressure and cholesterol levels. Even more, it’s a great mood improver and stress-buster. Now that’s an improvement for quality of life.

Aim for 2.5 hours of physical activity a week (or 30 minutes a day 5 days a week). Intensity should be moderate, yet conversational. Need a few ideas to get you out the door?

  • Walk or hike (with a friend or dog, or a friend’s dog)

  • Bike

  • Stand up paddle-board

  • Mow the lawn, pull some weeds

  • Jog (or walk jog for starters)

Whatever you chose, make it enjoyable.

3. The Power of Plants

Plant-based foods not only help to maintain healthy body weight, they aid in lowering blood pressure and improve heart health. Plants contain plant-stanols and sterols that help to lower LDL (low-density or “bad”) and total cholesterol. These stanols and sterols are found in fruits, vegetables, grains, beans and peas, nuts and seeds, and vegetable oils.

Boost your plant intake.

  • Aim for variety in choice and colors in fruits and vegetables. Even better, try one new fruit and vegetable each week.

  • Include at least one serving of fresh or unsweetened frozen fruit and vegetable for each meal and snack.

  • Keep ‘em whole. Whole grains are loaded with nutrients including fiber, B vitamins, minerals, iron, magnesium, and selenium. They also contain protein. Whole grains include: quinoa, brown rice, bulgur, and even whole-wheat pasta.

  • Legumes are high in fiber, antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, and protein. My favorites include black beans, chickpeas, white beans, and kidney beans. Use in rice, soups, salads and dips.

  • Nuts and seeds contain heart-healthy fats as well as fiber, vitamins, and minerals. Chose raw over salted, roasted. If you eat nut butters, choose unsweetened natural options.

  • Meatless Monday’s. Just one day a week, try going sans meat. If these kids from Novato Unified School District can do it, so can you!

4. Heart Healthy Fats

The body requires fat to function. Fat aids in the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins: A, E, D, and K. And cholesterol is an integral component of the cells in our bodies. Dietary fat also helps the body maintain normal blood sugar levels and build satiety. It’s important to eat the right kinds of fats.

What are healthy fats?

  • Mono- and poly-unsaturated fats. These good fats help lower LDL and total blood cholesterol. MUFA’s are found in avocados, nuts & seeds, olive oil, canola oil, peanut oil; PUFA’s in walnuts, flax seeds, sunflower seeds, corn oil, soybean (or vegetable) oil.

  • Omega 3’s. These little beauties help reduce inflammation and reduce plaque build-up in the arteries. Omega-3’s are found in:

    • Fatty fish: salmon, tuna, mackerel, sardines, and herring

    • Walnuts, ground flax, and flax-seed oil, pumpkin seed

5. Swap the Sodium for Spice

This one is simple. Sodium is a major electrolyte in the body, but too much dietary sodium can raise blood pressure and impact overall health – even in exercise enthusiast. Boost the flavor of foods by adding herbs and spices on your next meal. Try adding spices like all-spice, basil, chervil, cinnamon, mint, Paprika, turmeric, or sage to your favourite foods instead of salt.

For hearts’ sake, it’s never too late to make a change. Here's to your health – here’s to your heart.

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