28 Days to a Healthier Heart
February may be the shortest month of the year, but it’s enough time to achieve some big improvements in your heart health. Now is the perfect time to get started on a new, heart-healthy game plan. Think about making one small change each week to lower sodium, get active, quit smoking, and control blood pressure to boost your heart health this month.
Halt the Salt
Most American adults (and children too) are eating too much sodium. In fact, we are eating about 3,400 mg of sodium a day. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend reducing sodium intake to less than 2,300 mg per day. Eating too much sodium increases your risk for high blood pressure, a major contributor to heart disease and stroke.
Read Nutrition Facts Labels. Processed foods account for most of the sodium in our diet, not the salt shaker at home. When shopping at the grocery store, look for the lowest sodium options of your favorite foods. You’ll be surprised to see how the amount of sodium can vary in the same foods depending on the brand. http://www.cdc.gov/salt/pdfs/Sodium_Tip_Sheet.pdf [PDF-177K]
Eat more servings of fruits and vegetables a day to ward off heart disease. A diet rich in fresh and frozen fruits and vegetables can help lower sodium. If you’re not sure how many servings you should be eating, visit the Fruit and Vegetable Calculator. Here you can calculate your fruit and vegetable recommendations based on your calorie needs for your age, sex, and activity level.
Eat out less, cook more at home. One restaurant meal can easily add up to more than a day’s worth of sodium. Try making some of your favorite dishes with lower sodium ingredients at home. If a recipe calls for salt, use half the amount. You can also experiment with fresh herbs like cumin, basil, rosemary and cilantro to wake up your palette and enhance the taste of your food. To get you started on some heart-healthy recipes, check out the DASH eating plan. http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/public/heart/hbp/dash/index.htm
Eat less of the Saltiest Top 10 Foods. Knowing the foods that contribute the most sodium in today’s diet can help you make wiser, healthier choices. Here are the common foods that can lead to sodium overload: bread and rolls, cold cuts and cured meats, pizza, poultry, soups, sandwiches, cheese, pasta dishes, meat dishes and snacks. http://www.cdc.gov/VitalSigns/Sodium/index.html
Regular physical activity is a must for having a healthy heart. Commit to exercising 5 times per week or 150 minutes per week. Schedule your workout days on your calendar and treat them like an important appointment you can’t miss. In addition to helping your heart, exercise will give you more energy and reduce stress.
Aim for 30 minutes. Moderate-intensity exercise for 2 hours and 30 minutes every week is a great way to lower your risk of heart disease. You can even try breaking up your workout into 10-minute intervals throughout your day. If you don’t want to go to the gym, try taking a brisk walk around your neighborhood or at your local mall to kick off your new fitness habit.
Build Muscle. Pumping iron can help your body’s most important muscle—your heart. You can begin slowly, increasing the weight and repetitions as you progress. Adding resistance training to your workout has other benefits too, including increased bone density, coordination, and keeping a healthy weight. Here’s a sample workout to get you started: http://www.cdc.gov/physicalactivity/everyone/guidelines/adults.html#Musclestrengthening.
Take a class. Try salsa dancing, yoga, Pilates, or kick-boxing to add variety to your fitness routine. It’s a great way to try something new and keep your body moving. Take a friend with you and have fun exploring new activities.
Go High-tech. Try one of the many fitness apps available on your smart phone to help reach your fitness goals. Think of it as a personal trainer in your phone ready 24/7 to give you training tips and motivation when you need it. Many of these apps are free and can log your workout progress.
Tobacco is still the leading preventable cause of death in the U.S. More deaths are caused each year by tobacco use than by all deaths from HIV, illegal drug use, alcohol use, motor vehicle injuries, suicides, and murders combined. So now is the time to quit for good.
Change your routine. Do things and go places where smoking isn’t allowed. Visit libraries, museums, or even a department store. If you try to be near non-smokers it will help in your resolve to kick the habit.
Talk to your health care provider. Your doctor can help if you’re considering using medication to help you stop smoking. There are prescriptions and over-the-counter medications that can help reduce your cravings and withdrawal symptoms so you can focus on changing the behavior and habits that trigger your urge to smoke.
Let others help Tell family, friends, and co-workers that you’re going to quit and you need their support. Sign up for individual, group, or telephone counseling. Studies have shown that you have a better chance of being successful if you have help. Free telephone counseling is available at 1-800-QUIT-NOW (1-800-784-8669).
Don’t give up. Don’t let previous attempts to quit sabotage you now. Think about your past attempts to quit—what worked and what didn’t. Keep trying to quit methods until you find what works for you. Find more resources to help here http://www.cdc.gov/tobacco.
Know Your Blood Pressure
Lowering your blood pressure or maintaining normal blood pressure can greatly reduce your risk for heart disease and stroke. Nearly 1 in 3 adults (about 67 million) has high blood pressure and more than half of them don’t have it under control.
Check it. It’s important to know your numbers and what they mean. A normal reading is under 120 systolic (top number) and under 80 diastolic (bottom number). Track your blood pressure and discuss your readings with your doctor, pharmacist or other health care provider.
Take prescribed medicines. Remember to take blood pressure medications daily and follow the directions on the bottle. Use notes, pillboxes, and other reminders to take your medication. It’s important to get refills one week before your prescription runs out. http://millionhearts.hhs.gov/resources/teamuppressuredown.html#Patients
Limit Alcohol. In addition to raising blood pressure, too much alcohol can add unneeded calories to your diet. If you drink alcoholic beverages, have only a moderate amount – one drink a day for women, two drinks a day for men. http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/public/heart/hbp/hbp_low/hbp_low.pdf [PDF-268K]
Take time to relax. We live in a fast-paced hectic world that’s often stressful. Coping with stress by turning to excessive alcohol or smoking can raise the risk for high blood pressure. Instead, take some time daily to meditate. Sit quietly for 10-15 minutes, take slow, deep breaths and think peaceful thoughts.
- Page last reviewed: August 20, 2013
- Page last updated: August 20, 2013
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