February – American Heart Month

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I was pleasantly surprised recently to hear that my cholesterol and blood pressure had improved over the past year! My husband and I have a friendly competition concerning our health numbers and so this news definitely sent me to the “winners circle.”  With the knowledge that heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United Stated States, about 1 in every 4 deaths or approximately 600,000 deaths each year, we are motivated to make lifestyle choices that benefit our heart health.

The American Heart Association points out that 80% of heart disease and stroke events may be prevented by lifestyle changes and education. Knowing the major risk factors for heart disease can help you pinpoint where changes in your lifestyle may be necessary. Almost half of Americans have one of three major risk factors:

1) high blood pressure 2) high cholesterol and 3) smoking.

Other risk factors include having diabetes, an unhealthy diet, not getting enough exercise, being obese, and a family history of heart disease. Committing to making lifestyle changes can be a great first step in improving your risk factors.

The Med Instead of Meds program which will be offered by N.C. Cooperative Extension in Haywood County this year is a great resource for kicking off the lifestyle change of making healthier food choices. You can follow these seven steps to get you going:

  1. Change your protein by reducing red meat, increasing plant-based proteins such as beans and legumes and adding more fatty fish to your menus.
  2.  Swap your fats by choosing olive oil instead of butter or margarine. Aim to get 4 tablespoons in your cooking and salad dressings every day.
  3. Eat more vegetables. Get at least three serving (cups) per day. Include a variety of colors including dark green leafy vegetables such as kale, collards, and spinach.
  4. Eat more fruit getting at least two servings of a variety of colors a day.
  5. Snack on nuts and seeds while keeping within your calorie budget.
  6. Choose whole grain foods such as oatmeal, quinoa, brown rice, and popcorn. Always read the label and look for “whole grain” in the first ingredient on the list.
  7.  Rethink your sweets. Limit your sugar intake in snacks, beverages, and desserts to no more than three servings per week.

Moving more, another important lifestyle change, is as simple as choosing an activity that you enjoy and take every opportunity to add movement to your routine.

Finally, know your blood pressure, cholesterol, blood sugar, and BMI (Body Mass Index) numbers and what they mean and discuss them at regular checkups with your doctor!

For more information on Heart Disease: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

For more information about the Med Instead of Meds Program to be offered at N.C. Cooperative Extension in Haywood County, contact Julie Sawyer, Family and Consumer Science Extension Agent at (828) 456-3575 (Haywood), or email: julie_sawyer@ncsu.edu