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FORT LEONARD WOOD, Mo. — Another Valentine’s Day may be behind us, but this month features more than one reason to focus on the heart.

February is American Heart Month, designated by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The month-long observance is intended to raise awareness about heart disease, which accounts for one in four deaths in the U.S. every year, many of which are preventable. It is also a time to learn about ways to improve heart health.

A healthy heart requires physical activity and balanced-nutrition habits. Physical activity has been shown to reduce the risk of adverse health outcomes including all-cause mortality, heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, obesity and Type 2 diabetes.

Adults should aim for:

  • 150 to 300 minutes per week of moderate activity that results in hard breathing while still being able to have a conversation;
  • 75 to 150 minutes per week of vigorous activity that makes it difficult to carry on a conversation; and
  • muscle-strengthening activities two days per week.

Before starting any vigorous activity regimen, it is recommended that you first speak with a healthcare provider or physician.

Nutrition

A healthy nutrition lifestyle in addition to physical activity will help keep your heart happy. The basics of a healthy diet include fruits and vegetables, whole grains, unsaturated fats, omega-3 fatty acids and nuts and seeds.

One of the most heavily-researched dietary patterns that has been shown to be cardio-protective (i.e., heart healthy) is what’s called the Mediterranean diet. This diet focuses on cuisines of Mediterranean countries like Greece, Italy and France. It is plant-based and includes whole grains, vegetables, legumes, fruits, nuts, seeds, herbs and spices, and olive oil as the primary sources of fat. Fish, seafood, dairy and poultry are consumed less often, while red meats and sweets are eaten on occasion.

Dietary fat

There are two main types of dietary fat: saturated and unsaturated. Saturated fat is solid at room temperature and typically comes from animal products and processed foods. Unsaturated fats are liquid at room temperature and include vegetable oils, nuts and seeds. Unsaturated fats also include monounsaturated fats like olive oil and polyunsaturated fats like omega-3 fatty acids. Monounsaturated fats have been shown to lower total cholesterol and low-density lipoprotein, or LDL, cholesterol — commonly called “bad” cholesterol.

LDL cholesterol can build up in the walls of arteries, making them hard and narrow. Over time, this can lead to heart attack or stroke. Polyunsaturated fats include omega-3 fatty acids, which come from foods like salmon, sardines, mackerel and flax seeds. These types of fatty acids can lower the amount of fat in your blood, therefore lowering the risk of stroke and heart failure.

Salt

Table salt is comprised of sodium and chloride. The typical American diet contains 3,400 milligrams of sodium per day, or about 1.5 teaspoons, which is much more than our bodies need. Excess sodium in the diet can lead to high blood pressure, causing the heart to work harder to pump blood throughout the body, which can lead to heart disease. The average person should consume no more than 2,300 milligrams of sodium per day, or about one teaspoon, to maintain heart health.

Ways to shake the sodium habit include:

  • choosing low-sodium versions of processed foods;
  • choosing less-processed foods, like fruit, vegetables and unsalted nuts and seeds in place of chips or packaged foods;
  • avoiding adding salt to your food at the table; and
  • flavoring dishes with herbs and spices or salt-free seasonings.
Fiber

Fiber plays an important role in heart health by helping to lower cholesterol — it may also help lower blood pressure. It is recommended that you consume 14 grams of fiber per 1,000 calories, so 28 grams of fiber should be consumed for the standard 2,000-calorie daily diet. Sources of fiber include fruits and vegetables with the skin or peel on, whole grains, beans, nuts and seeds.

Available resources

Call GLWACH’s Nutrition Care Division at 573.596.1762 to set up an appointment with a registered dietitian today. All Tricare beneficiaries are welcome and no referral is necessary.