February is American Heart Month! With cardiovascular disease (CVD) remaining the leading cause of death in the United States, it’s important to consistently revisit your lifestyle habits and set goals for keeping your ticker in tip-top shape — even beyond February.
Did you know that one of the best ways to prevent CVD is through eating a healthy, nutrient-dense diet and exercising often? Show your heart some love with the following tips:
Tip: Eat More Fibrous Foods.
Load up on fruits, veggies, whole grains, beans and legumes. These contain a key nutrient called soluble fiber which is known to help lower harmful cholesterol (LDL) levels (1). Aim for 10-25 grams of soluble fiber per day.
Tip: Limit Sodium, Trans Fats, Saturated Fats and Processed Foods.
These are fatty cuts of meat, packaged foods and fried foods. Instead, opt for healthy fats such as olive oil, salmon, avocado and nuts/seeds.
Tip: Move More, Move Often!
Exercise strengthens muscles, and that includes our heart muscle! Recommendations suggest at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity activity per day, a minimum of five days per week (for a total of 150 minutes per week).
Aim for a combination of both cardio and strength training! Too daunting or challenging to find time? Go on a walk during your lunch break, watch an online exercise video or take the stairs vs the elevator. Also consider exercise “bites” in which you incorporate two or three 10-15 minute exercise breaks throughout your day.
Tip: Maintain a Healthy Weight
Having excess weight or obesity increases your risk for developing heart disease. This is because extra weight puts additional strain on your heart. Talk to your healthcare provider (Try the OAC’s Obesity Care Provider, ObesityCareProviders.com, if you need one) and schedule regular follow-ups to discuss ways to maintain or lose weight. You can also have your cholesterol and blood pressure checked at these appointments.
Tip: Manage Your Stress and Catch More Z’s.
Stress increases cortisol, which can lead to weight gain – a key risk factor for heart disease. It can also lead to other unhealthy habits like stress eating and a lack of sleep, making it harder to stick to a heart-healthy program. To help unwind, try incorporating regular meditation, yoga, breathing exercises and positive self-talk.
Getting Started: A Day of Heart-Healthy Meals
- Breakfast: Try fibrous plain Oatmeal and top it with a handful of colorful berries and one tablespoon of walnuts or pistachios. For some extra sweetness, add a teaspoon of natural sweetener such as honey, agave nectar or real maple syrup.
- Lunch: Consider a colorful salad with beets, tomatoes, pepper strips, avocado chunks, red onion rings, grated carrots or another favorite lean protein. Top with a 1/4 cup of canned beans (drained and rinsed). Lightly drizzle olive oil on top for a dressing.
- Dinner: Sauté fish fillets (wild salmon, trout, tilapia, halibut) in a tablespoon of olive oil for 3-5 minutes per side (until fish just “flakes”). Top with lemon and fresh herbs or use fresh salsa. Serve with baked or roasted sweet potatoes and broccoli.
Reference 1. Ras R, Geleijnse J. LDL-cholesterol-lowering effect of plant sterols and stanols across different dose ranges: A meta-analysis of randomized controlled studies. British J Nutr. 2014;112(2):214-219.
About the Author:
Shelby Burns is a Senior Bariatric Dietitian at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. She completed her MS at Boston University in Human and Nutrition Metabolism and is both a Certified Personal Trainer and Licensed Dietitian! Throughout her time in the health and wellness world, her experience has included corporate nutrition, medical nutrition therapy, and weight loss counseling in addition to personal training as she fully believes in a total lifestyles approach in order to transform, take care of, and nourish the body and mind.