It’s time to take these tips for good health to heart
February is the time to focus on hearts, and that includes what we can do to keep our hearts in good health for a lifetime. With that in mind, here are current recommendations from the American Heart Association:
- Consume an "overall healthy diet." "More of the best, less of the rest" is a good motto.
- Aim for a healthy body weight. Calculate your BMI (Body Mass Index), which is weight in pounds, times 703. Divide that number by height in inches. Divide that number by height in inches again. A BMI over 30 means your excess weight may put undue pressure on your heart.
- Aim for recommended levels of LDL cholesterol and triglycerides. High levels of "bad" LDL cholesterol and triglycerides in your blood signal bad tidings for heart disease.
- Aim for normal blood pressure. "Normal" is now 130/80. Toss out the salt shaker, increase intake of calcium-rich foods, fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans and nuts. These foods contain substances that help regulate blood pressure.
- Aim for normal blood glucose level. Diabetes — abnormally high levels of blood sugar (glucose) — is a major risk factor for heart disease.
- Consume a diet rich in fruits and vegetables. "Rich" means 1 to 2 cups of fruit and 2 or more cups of vegetables every day. Many of the substances that protect the heart from damage — such as vitamins A, C, E, folate, fiber, lutein, and beta carotene — reside in these foods.
- Choose whole-grain, high-fiber foods. Shredded wheat instead of corn flakes, oatmeal instead of cream of wheat, whole-grain bread instead of the sticky white stuff.
- Consume fish, especially oily fish, at least two times a week. The omega-3 fats in these foods may help save you from dying from a heart attack.
- Limit saturated fat to less than 7 percent of calories each day. (That’s less than 15 grams a day if you’re checking food labels).
- Limit trans fats to less than 1 percent of calories (that’s less than 1-2 grams a day for most of us).
- Limit cholesterol to less than 300 milligrams a day. (One egg yolk contains about 200 milligrams of cholesterol.)
- Choose lean meats and vegetable alternatives. (Lean meats usually have the words "round" or "loin" in the name. "Vegetable alternatives" include soy protein and other nonanimal protein sources.
- Be physically active. The heart is a muscle that needs regular workouts — 30 to 60 minutes a day — to stay strong.
- Avoid the use of or exposure to tobacco products. Everything else you do to keep your heart healthy can be canceled out if you smoke, experts say.