When we think about Valentine’s Day, we often think about a big red heart that signifies our love for our Valentine. Just as you may think about the health of your relationship with your Valentine (and how your Valentine’s gift could positively or negatively impact that relationship!), it’s important to think about your actual heart - the one that pumps blood to keep your body running. February is American Heart Association Month, and while it’s always important to monitor how you can practice positive heart health, care for your heart and for the Valentine that owns your heart could be a great combination that will make for a great Valentine’s Day. So instead of focusing on that great Valentine’s Day meal, focus on the whole month, using February’s focus on heart to re-boot your health. Heart-healthy diet January is the month that everybody seems to be trying out a new diet. Often, people seem to pick a fad diet, and by February, many fail because so many fad diets require a severe cutback of many vital nutrients. Those that are still running strong with their new diets by February, though, are likely those that opted for a more balanced diet. Focusing on heart-healthy foods is a sustainable way to eat healthier and, unlike what your Valentine does to you, keeps your heart from skipping a beat. Some dos and don’ts for a heart-healthy diet include:
- Control your portion size: You don’t need seconds! Whatever you choose to eat, keeping your portions under control helps your heart health. A good way to start that is to eat on smaller plates at home.
- Fruits and vegetables: Load up on fruits and veggies as your heart-healthy diet gets underway. If possible, go for fresh fruits and vegetables, or secondarily, those from your grocer’s freezer. If you opt for canned fruits and veggies, make sure that they’re canned in water or juice, and are low in added sugar and salt.
- Whole grains: Get used to wheat bread, brown rice and whole-grain pasta. Whole grains pack extra fiber which helps your body to operate more smoothly.
- Opt for healthy fats: Not all fat is bad! Trade in the deep-fried food for “healthy fats” like avocado, nuts, seeds, and olive oil. Remember to watch your portions!
- At an Italian restaurant: Avoid the alfredo. Chicken Alfredo or similar decadent Italian dishes are packed with salt and fat. Go for a wine sauce, which is just as decadent, but much more heart-healthy
- At a seafood restaurant: Skip the pan-fried or deep-fried fish entree. Target dishes rich in omega-3 fatty acids, like salmon, cod and tuna.
- At a steakhouse: Many people think that a heart-healthy usually cuts out red meat. But it doesn’t have to. Skip the Porterhouse and New York Strip, and go for the “loins,” like sirloin or tenderloin.
Everyday Heart Health You know that exercise and a good diet can keep your heart healthy. But what else can you do to keep your ticker going strong? Incorporate these habits into your lifestyle and your heart health will be the best it can be for you.
- Eat healthy fats, NOT trans fats. We need fats in our diet, including saturated and polyunsaturated and unsaturated fats. One fat we don’t need is trans fat, which is known to increase your risk of developing heart disease or having a stroke over a lifetime. Trans fat clogs your arteries by raising your bad cholesterol levels and lowering your good cholesterol levels. By cutting them from your diet, you will improve the blood flow throughout your body. So, what are trans fats?
- Have good dental Hygiene. Practice good dental hygiene, especially flossing your teeth daily. Dental health is a good indication of overall health, including your heart, because those who have periodontal (gum) disease often have the same risk factors for heart disease. Studies continue on this issue, but many have shown that bacteria in the mouth involved in the development of gum disease can move into the bloodstream and cause an elevation in C-reactive protein, a marker for inflammation in the blood vessels. These changes may in turn, increase your risk of heart disease and stroke.
- Get enough sleep. We say this all of the time, but sleep is essential. If you don’t sleep enough, you may be at a higher risk for cardiovascular disease no matter your age or other health habits. One study looking at 3,000 adults over the age of 45 found that those who slept fewer than six hours per night were about twice as likely to have a stroke or heart attack as people who slept six to eight hours per night. Researchers believe sleeping too little causes disruptions in underlying health conditions and biological processes, including blood pressure and inflammation.
- Stand, do not sit. Sitting too long can cause overall problems with your health. Research suggests that staying seated for long periods of time is bad for your health no matter how much exercise you do. This is bad news for the many people who sit at sedentary jobs all day. Sitting for long periods of time (especially when traveling) increases your risk of deep vein thrombosis (a blood clot). Exercise, exercise, exercise!
- Avoid secondhand smoke like the plague. Studies show that the risk of developing heart disease is about 25 to 30 percent higher for people who are exposed to secondhand smoke at home or work. According to the American Heart Association, exposure to tobacco smoke contributes to about 34,000 premature heart disease deaths and 7,300 lung cancer deaths each year. And nonsmokers who have high blood pressure or high blood cholesterol have an even greater risk of developing heart disease when they’re exposed to secondhand smoke. This is because the chemicals emitted from cigarette smoke promote the development of plaque buildup in the arteries.
Did you know several factors can have affects on your heart health. Pollution, sleep, your teeth, weather, stress, snoring and loneliness are all items that you’ve probably never thought about when you are considering your heart. Take a look at this infographic and learn more.
If something went wrong with your heart, would you know it? Consider watching out for the following problems. Chest Discomfort It’s the most common sign of heart danger. If you have a blocked artery or are having a heart attack, you may feel pain, tightness, or pressure in your chest. Everyone is different and experiences different sensations, but chest discomfort is always a sign that something is wrong. The feeling usually lasts longer than a few minutes. It may happen when you're at rest or when you're doing something physical. Nausea, Indigestion, Heartburn, or Stomach Pain Some people have these symptoms during a heart attack. They may occasionally vomit. Women are more likely to report this type of symptom than men are. Of course, you can have an upset stomach for many reasons that have nothing to do with your heart. It could just be something you ate, after all. But you need to be aware that it can also happen during a heart attack. If you feel this way and you’re at risk for heart problems, let a doctor find out what’s going on, especially if you also have any of the other symptoms on this list. Pain that Spreads to the Arm Another classic heart attack symptom is pain that radiates down the left side of the body. It sometimes starts at the chest and moves outward. You Feel Dizzy or Lightheaded A lot of things can make you lose your balance or feel faint for a moment. Maybe you didn’t have enough to eat or drink, or you stood up too fast. But if you suddenly feel unsteady and you also have chest discomfort or shortness of breath, call a doctor right away. Throat or Jaw Pain By itself, throat or jaw pain probably isn't heart related. More likely, it's caused by a muscular issue, a cold, or a sinus problem. But if you have pain or pressure in the center of your chest that spreads up into your throat or jaw, it could be a sign of a heart attack. Call 911 and seek medical attention to make sure everything is alright. You Get Exhausted Easily If you suddenly feel fatigued or winded after doing something you had no problem doing in the past (like climbing the stairs or carrying groceries from the car) make an appointment with your doctor right away. Extreme exhaustion or unexplained weakness, sometimes for days at a time, can be a symptom of a heart attack, especially for women. Snoring It’s normal to snore a little while you snooze. But unusually loud snoring that sounds like a gasping or choking can be a sign of sleep apnea. That’s when you stop breathing for brief moments several times at night while you are still sleeping. This puts extra stress on your heart. Your doctor can check whether you need a sleep study to see if you have this condition. If you do, you may need a CPAP machine to smooth out your breathing while you sleep. Sweating Breaking out in a cold sweat for no obvious reason could signal a heart attack. If this happens along with any of these other symptoms, call 911 to get to a hospital right away. Don’t try to drive yourself. Irregular Heartbeat It's normal for your heart to race when you are nervous or excited or to skip or add a beat once in awhile. But, if you feel like your heart is beating out of time for more than just a few seconds, or if it happens often, tell your doctor. Most cases it’s nothing but occasionally, it could signal a condition called atrial fibrillation that needs treatment. So ask your doctor to check it out. Questions about these symptoms or your heart health? Talk to your doctor to make sure you’re not at risk.
- Rather than tempting your beloved with sweets, consider a gift that has more permanence. Search for a poem that describes your feelings and write it on beautiful paper for a handmade Valentine. Or visit www.ShopHeart.org for gift ideas that benefit the American Heart Association.
- Quality time is one of the most meaningful gifts. Bundle up and plan an active outing such as sledding, ice skating, gathering wood for a fire, or if you’re feeling adventurous, visit an indoor rock wall.
- If your kids are having a Valentine’s Day party at their school or day care, instead of sending candies, consider raisins, grapes, whole-grain pretzels, colored pencils or stickers as tokens of their friendly affection.
- Cooking at home is an excellent way to control what and how much you eat. Take a date to a local cooking class to practice your skills or learn a new technique.
- Prepare a romantic candlelit dinner at home using one of our heart-healthy recipes.
- Give to one another by giving back. Ask a date to volunteer with you at a local organization. Giving back is a healthy habit that can boost your mood and help beat stress.
- Use this day as an opportunity to tell your loved one how important they are to you, and share ways that you can support each other’s health and wellness. Get started by taking the My Life Check Assessment.
- Craving something sweet? Gift a beautiful fresh fruit basket to your loved one instead of giving sweets with added sugars.
- Sharing is caring – if you go out for a romantic dinner date, order one entrée to share. Many restaurant servings are enough for two – splitting will keep you from overdoing it.
- Don’t forget to love Fido, too! Give your pet a Valentine and remember to walk or exercise them daily – getting active with your pet will benefit your health and your bond with your pets.
- Take it slow – if you receive a luxurious box of chocolates from your sweetie, stick it in the freezer and enjoy in moderation over the next several weeks.
- Take a long, romantic walk with your beloved – and try to make it a regular habit. Aim for at least 150 minutes of moderately intense physical activity each week to help keep your heart healthy. You can reach this goal by walking briskly for at least 30 minutes five days each week.
- Check out our tips for healthier preparation methods for cooking.
- Rekindle an old flame – try preparing one of your sweetie’s favorite recipes in a healthier way. These healthy substitutions can help you cut down on saturated fats, trans fats, salt (sodium), and added sugars, while noticing little, if any, difference in taste.
With August 26th being National Dog Day, we wanted to share the health benefits that dogs (and pets in general) have on humans. Anecdotal and scientific evidence have shown that dog owners tend to be healthier than the average person. Here are a few ways that living with a dog might keep you healthy:
- They keep you moving and active: This is no surprise to dog owners that frequently walk or exercise with their pets. According to a 2010 study in the American Journal of Public Health, children with dogs spent more time doing moderate to vigorous physical activity than children without dogs. Additionally, a 2006 study done by Canadian researchers at the University of Victoria, dog owners were more likely to participate in mild to moderate physical activity. They walked an average of 300 minutes per week, compared with non-dog owners, who walked an average of 168 minutes per week.
- Dogs are allergy fighters: Although due to contrary belief, a growing number of studies have suggested that kids growing up in a home with "furred animals" -- whether it's a pet cat or dog, or on a farm and exposed to large animals -- will have less risk of allergies and asthma as they become adults.
- Dogs and the elderly: Studies have shown that Alzheimer's patients have fewer anxious outbursts if there is an animal in the home. Caregivers also feel less burdened when there is a pet. Walking a dog or just caring for a pet -- for elderly people who are able, can provide exercise and companionship.
- Depression reducers: Studies in AIDS patients and the elderly have shown that each group is far less likely to suffer from depression than those without pets. The benefit is especially pronounced when people are strongly attached to their pets and have a an animal to take care of in their life. Studies have found that pets give purpose.
- Good for the heart: Several studies have found that heart attack patients who have pets, survive longer than those without. Also, male pet owners have less sign of heart disease, lower triglyceride and cholesterol levels.
Did you know, February 27th is National Strawberry Day? Who knew Strawberries had their own day? This special fruit is one of the most important fruits in the world. Strawberries are considered “the taste of spring” because they are the first fruit to ripen each year. Each bite is packed with vitamins, antioxidants and fiber, and are overall extremely good for you. Eat your strawberries today and celebrate this wonderful fruit. Consider a fresh bowl of strawberries and cream, make a strawberry smoothie, or have a scoop of strawberry frozen yogurt. Whatever you are in the mood for, enjoy your strawberries. It’s National Strawberry day!