Jordan Luxa

Jordan Luxa

Along with Valentine’s Day, February is also home to American Heart Month. Heart health deserves to be recognized for the sole fact that heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women in the United States — resulting in about one in every four deaths. It’s important that we all understand the risk factors for heart disease as well as how to make positive changes to our eating habits and lifestyle.

Risk factors that may increase your chances of developing heart disease include having high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, being overweight, tobacco use as well as secondhand smoke exposure, excessive alcohol intake, not getting enough physical activity and eating an unhealthy diet.

The good news is that several of these risk factors can be positively influenced by simple changes in lifestyle, including what you choose to eat. Follow these heart smart tips to prevent heart disease at any age.

First, choose a healthy balanced eating plan. Generally speaking, as you prepare your meals and dish up your plates, imagine the MyPlate image. For those who may not be familiar with MyPlate, this is what replaced the old Food Pyramid. It shows us that our diet should be one that is high in fruits and vegetables, fiber-rich whole grains, lean protein, and low-fat dairy. More specifically we should eat less of foods that are high in sodium, saturated fat, and added sugars. The American Heart Association also recommends eating fish (preferably oily fish that are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, such as salmon or tuna) at least twice per week, as well as nuts, legumes and seeds and trying to eat some meals that don't involve meat.

Next, be physically active. It’s important that we move more and sit less. For significant health benefits, adults should get at least 150 minutes of moderate physical activity per week. If you break that down that comes out to be roughly 30 minutes a day, 5 days per week. Additionally, adults should also do muscle strengthening activities twice a week. Now, if you’re just starting to incorporate exercise into your daily routine, you can start off smaller and build your way up. Remember, any amount of physical activity is better than none.

Finally, find a doctor and schedule routine wellness exams, no matter what your age or health status. Genetics play a major role in health issues such as heart disease — just look at Bob Harper, a famous athletic trainer, who had a near fatal heart attack a couple years ago. Talk to your doctor about any family history of heart disease as well as your cholesterol levels, heart rate, blood pressure, blood sugars, and weight status.

Make your heart health a top priority and start practicing these tips today.

Jordan Luxa is a Food, Nutrition and Health educator for Nebraska Extension in Washington County. She can be contacted at 402-426-9455, jordan.luxa@unl.edu, or visit the Washington County Extension website at www.washington.unl.edu.

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