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South Health District

Protecting your heart in more than relationships

VALDOSTA – February may be the month of love, but did you know that February is also American Heart Month?

While most people are focused on protecting their hearts in relationships, many people forget to protect their heart health.

This American Heart Month, the Georgia Department of Public Health’s South Health District wants to encourage our communities to protect their hearts, not just in February, but all year. Whether it’s through diet, physical activity, or lifestyle changes, protecting your heart should be your focus every day.

Diet

A heart-healthy diet focuses on lowering sodium and saturated fats, and increasing nutrients such as potassium, calcium, magnesium, fiber and protein.

A simple, low-cost step to cutting sodium and increasing nutrients is to eat more fruits and vegetables and eat smaller portions of meat. A serving of meat, preferably fish or chicken, should only be 2-3 ounces. A serving of vegetables is between ½-1 cup and fruit is ½ cup or a whole fruit about the size of your fist.

You should also eat more whole grains such as whole-wheat bread, high-fiber cereal, brown rice or buckwheat.

Decreasing sugary snacks and drinks, eating less red meat (or leaner cuts of red meat) and not drinking alcohol often are also important to maintaining a heart-healthy diet.

Physical Activity

Regular physical activity is also recommended as part of a heart-healthy lifestyle.

You should aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate physical activity or 75 minutes of vigorous physical activity each week.

Physical activity doesn’t always mean going to the gym. It can be walking around your neighborhood, mowing the grass, going for a swim or gardening. Small lifestyle changes such as taking the stairs, parking in a further away parking spot or standing at your desk are great steps towards a healthier heart.

“Physical activity is important for every aspect of your health,” explained Traci Gosier, Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion Coordinator with South Health District. “Increasing your daily physical activity improves your heart health, helps you burn calories and maintain a healthy weight. It can also improve your mental health, cognitive function later in life and overall attitude. Increasing your physical activity is one of the most important steps you can take in improving your overall health.”

Lifestyle Changes

While making changes to your diet and increasing your physical activity are important steps to improve your heart health, they aren’t a cure-all. Sometimes lifestyle changes are necessary to preventing heart disease and protecting your heart.

Blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar can affect your hearts ability to perform its job, so it is important to have your levels checked regularly.

If you do have high cholesterol, blood pressure or are diagnosed with diabetes it is very important to take your medications as directed by a physician.

Quitting smoking is another lifestyle change that can greatly improve your hearts health. The chemicals produced by smoking get into your blood and can damage your heart and blood vessels. Smoking can also cause plaque to build up in your arteries, making it more difficult for blood cells to move through. This can create blood clots and can ultimately lead to heart attack or stroke.

Whether you are 16 or 60, it is never too late to try and make healthy lifestyle changes. Small steps, like eating a banana instead of chips or taking the stairs instead of the elevator, can make a huge difference in your life and your heart health.

Protect your heart, not just in February, but every day.

For more information on heart health, preventing heart disease, and healthy lifestyle changes visit the CDC’s website at https://www.cdc.gov/heartdisease/prevention.htm.   

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