February is American Heart Month, a terrific time to spread awareness about the risks, causes, and treatments associated with heart disease. Heart disease kills more people in the U.S. than all forms of cancer combined. A heart attack occurs in this country approximately every 40 seconds. It’s up to you to take care of your own heart; here are 3 tips for maximizing your heart health:
1. Exercise on a regular basis. Exercise can be fun, especially when you have someone to share it with. Having a partner to exercise with also holds both of you accountable to each other. Cardiovascular (aerobic) exercise strengthens your heart, improves circulation, and reduces the risk of type 2 diabetes, and strength training (weightlifting) exercises build muscle. Try any exercise that gets your heart rate up, preferably to a target rate that your doctor can help you determine. Brisk walking, swimming, cycling, and playing tennis or pickleball are great choices. The American Heart Association recommends 150 minutes of cardio each week, and it can be broken up into increments that fit your schedule.
2. Quit smoking and get an annual physical that monitors your cholesterol, blood pressure, triglycerides, and weight, along with other heart health benchmarks. Your risk for heart disease will be based on these factors, and will help your doctor make appropriate recommendations regarding lifestyle changes and, if necessary, medication. Heart disease can be caused by untreated diabetes; up to 1/4 of people with diabetes don’t realize they have it.
3. Eat a diet rich in heart-healthy foods. Important superfoods include salmon (and other omega-3 fatty acid-rich seafood), dark berries, dark green leafy vegetables, dark chocolate, nuts and seeds, steel-cut oats, and green tea, among others. These foods help lower cholesterol and blood pressure, and help reduce inflammation in the body.
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