February is Heart Health month, and what better way to start a regimen incorporating good nutrition and physical activity into your daily life!

When beginning a total life transformation, it is important to start small and set attainable goals which then become habits over time. Here are a few ways to begin taking care of your heart for life:

Healthy Nutrition: Commit to a heart healthy diet by consuming fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean protein every day. Select fat-free/skim and 1 percent low-fat dairy products and choose fiber-rich whole grains for most grain servings. Serve foods with less sodium and prepare meals with little or no salt; a good goal for daily sodium intake is about 1,500 milligrams. Additionally, cut calories by cutting back on portions and limit the times you eat out weekly.

Physical Activity: Regular physical activity improves heart function and helps lower the risk of developing heart disease. Aim for 30 minutes of physical activity a day and find an activity you enjoy, such as gardening, swimming, dancing or walking.

Watch the Waistline: Excess body weight forces your heart to work harder; losing a small amount of weight can make a big difference in cardiovascular performance. The treatment plan for obesity involves eating fewer calories and learning the skills to change unhealthy behaviors. The American Heart Association recommends obese people participate in a medically supervised weight-loss program directed by a health care professional (dietitian, for example). Visit your health care professional supervising your weight loss two to three times a month, for six months.

Quit Smoking: Smoking by itself increases the risk of coronary heart disease. Smoking is the most preventable cause of premature death in the United States, and smokers have a higher risk of developing many chronic disorders, including coronary artery disease and stroke. If you need assistance, there are many organizations which can help including the American Cancer Society, American Lung Association and the National Cancer Institute.

Love Your Numbers: Have your blood pressure, cholesterol and triglyceride levels checked regularly and visit with your doctor yearly to check on overall health, including weight. Controlling elevated levels is critical to preventing heart disease and identifying potential problems early on.

Limit Stress: Recognize signs of stress in your life and observe which components can be controlled and those aspects which cannot. Practice reducing stress levels with relaxation, such as meditation and yoga or through personal “time-outs.” Exercise is proven to relieve stress by raising endorphin levels, which remain high hours after activity.

Carey Stites is a certified personal trainer, group fitness instructor and a Registered Dietitian with a master’s degree in nutrition. Carey is currently the Registered Dietitian working with Wellstone in Harker Heights. Contact her at carey.stites@smchh.org.

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