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American Heart Month Series: Lower Your Risk

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Take Control

There are many things Americans can do to reduce their risk of heart disease. First is to quit smoking. Smokers are twice as likely as non-smokers to have a heart attack. When you quit, you are making a positive move in reducing your risk of heart attack as well as a variety of diseases and cancer. It’s also critical to your heart health to control cholesterol. Keep your total cholesterol at less than 200, your LDL, the bad cholesterol at less than 130, and HDL, the good cholesterol at more than 40 for men and more than 50 for women. And make sure you manage high blood pressure, which affects some sixty-million people in this country. Diabetes is another major risk factor for heart attack and cardiovascular disease. When you control diabetes and blood sugar, you can minimize your risk of complications.

Reaching and maintaining a healthy weight is vital in reducing your risk. Eat a healthy diet consisting of lean protein, nuts, whole grains and plenty of fruits and vegetables. Avoid foods high in saturated and trans fat, cholesterol and refined sugar. Stay active and participate in moderate exercise, like walking or swimming or biking, for 30 minutes most days. Exercise also helps to reduce stress, another major risk.

Too much stress or poorly managed stress makes you at greater risk for heart attack, stroke and  other heart problems. It also raises blood pressure and blood sugar, and leads to unhealthy life choices like overeating or smoking. Learn how to prioritize your responsibilities and chores, and avoid or eliminate those things that take up time needlessly or cause stress. Learn effective time management skills to organize your life and make the most of every day.

 

Explore relaxation and anger management techniques like meditation, massage, yoga or Tai Chi. Learn how to vent your emotions in a healthy way by talking it out, or by keeping a journal and expressing your feelings about stressful or bad things in your life. Learn how to focus on the positive aspects of your life and do things that you enjoy and help you relax, like gardening, volunteer work, playing with pets, arts and craft projects, or reading.

And since February is Bake For Family Fun Month, why not try baking some heart healthy treats with your Valentine, your grandkids or other family members. Baking together can be a wonderful bonding experience. Sharing recipe secrets, working together to create something delicious and then enjoying the final product creates lasting memories for everyone to cherish. There are lots of ways to make traditional favorites not only delicious, but healthy too. Wheat flour instead of white flour adds healthy fiber. You can also substitute unsweetened applesauce or mashed avocado for oil, and sweeten with vanilla extract or stevia instead of sugar. Check online or in cookbooks for healthy substitutions in your favorite recipes.