Put your heart first this Valentine's Day
By Deanna Shade MS, RD, LD, CNSC, Informatics Dietitian, Nutrition Care DivisionJanuary 30, 2018
Consider giving yourself that perfect gift this Valentine's Day: the gift of a healthy heart.In addition to Valentine's Day, February also marks American Heart Month as a great time to pledge to a healthy lifestyle that can lead to a lifetime of heart health.Heart disease is the leading cause of death for men and women. It affects people of all backgrounds, however African American men are at the highest risk of heart disease.When it comes to taking care of your heart, you can never start too soon and small lifestyle changes can make a big difference over time. Here are some easy steps to take during the month of February to give your heart the ultimate Valentine's gift:1. Increase the fiber in your diet. Increasing the fiber in your foods will help keep your cholesterol in balance which decreases your risk for heart disease. High fiber foods include whole grains like brown rice, whole wheat pasta and oatmeal, as well as fresh fruits, vegetables and legumes.2. Start cooking at home. Cook a heart-healthy meal at home at least three nights of the week. Focus on recipes with lean meats, cook with vegetable oils instead of butter and lard, and swap salt for dried herbs and spices.3. Get a heart check up. Schedule a visit with your doctor to see where your heart health currently stands, ask questions, and help focus your goals.4. Give your heart some exercise. Your heart is a muscle and needs to be challenged to keep it strong. Try adding in daily walks after lunch or dinner to get your heart pumping.5. Take steps to quit smoking. If you currently smoke, quitting can cut your chances of heart disease and stroke significantly.In addition to putting your heart first this Valentine's Day, plan to talk to your loved ones about their heart health as well.Talking with your family and friends about heart disease can be awkward, but it is important and could help save their life.Have a "heart-to-heart" this Valentine's Day at the dinner table, in the car or even over the phone by sharing these tips alongside that gift of a teddy bear, fresh flowers, or a box of chocolates.