February is American Heart Health Month, a time to remember that the choices we make can lead to longer, healthier lives. Although our focus at the Butt Seriously blog is usually colon health, American Heart Health month provides an opportunity to explore how the same diet and exercise habits that support a healthy colon can also support a healthy heart.
In February 1964, President Lyndon B. Johnson recognized the impact of heart disease and drafted a proclamation to the people of the United States to “give heed to the nationwide problem of the heart and blood-vessel diseases, and to support the programs required to bring about its solution.” It was his hope to expand heart-healthy programming and education to combat and eventually eliminate heart disease as a cause of death.
Although there has been a concerted effort to bring awareness to the issue, heart disease incidence and mortality has only increased since 1964, and it is the leading cause of death in America and in the world. According to recent estimates:
Heart disease, like colon disease, is largely influenced by poor lifestyle choices. The good news is we can lower our risk of heart disease with healthy choices in diet and exercise and management of health conditions.
A heart-healthy diet is full of nutrient-rich foods. It includes vitamins, minerals, protein and whole grains that are low in fat and help to control weight, blood pressure and cholesterol. Choose colorful fruits and vegetables, skinless poultry and fish, nuts, beans and legumes, and low-fat dairy products.
It is not essential to avoid red meat entirely, but limit it to special occasions because it can increase the risk for high cholesterol (as well as colon cancer). Pay attention the grams of sugar and saturated fat in the foods you purchase, especially prepackaged foods. Sugar and saturated fat contribute to weight gain and increase your risk of diabetes. Reducing salt intake is also important for heart health, so look for recipes that season with spices instead of salt.
Try to get at least 150 minutes of moderate physical activity or 75 minutes of vigorous physical activity per week for optimum heart health. In our increasingly sedentary society, most men and women are not getting adequate exercise. Making physical activity a part of your routine will prevent weight gain and help you achieve cardiovascular fitness.
You may find it useful to use a fitness tracker app on your phone to monitor your calories and physical activity. Most calorie and nutrition information on food labels is based on a 2,000 calorie per day diet, but this does not work for everyone. Your body may require fewer calories depending on your age, gender and activity level. Your doctor can help you calculate the number of calories you should be eating and drinking to maintain your weight. When you know your daily recommended calorie intake, you can customize your meals and activity level to ensure that you are not taking in more calories than you can burn in one day.
Annual physicals are important for evaluating your heart health, even if you feel completely well. At your checkup, your doctor will go over your health history and ask if you have a family history of illnesses like heart disease, stroke, colon cancer or other chronic diseases. You should also have a blood pressure screening, heart exam, lung exam and abdominal exam that will help your doctor assess your overall health.
Your annual physical will provide an opportunity for you to ask your doctor about your recommended body weight and calorie intake, and you can get dietary guidelines and exercise tips. If you are a smoker, your doctor can provide resources to help you quit. Alcohol use also contributes to your risk for heart disease, so get help from your doctor to manage your alcohol intake (Source: American Heart Association).
Take some time to evaluate your habits and choices this month. Small, daily changes can boost your heart health and colon health and can add years to your life.