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Healthy Changes for Heart Month

From My Heart to the Heart: Heart disease remains the number one killer in the U.S. Please consider renewing your commitment to healthy habits for the heart of the month and beyond.

Knowing that heart disease affects so many people in the U.S., I'm sure many of you can relate my story. My dad had heart disease since I was 3 years old and passed away 10 years later. A cherished uncle followed, and then another uncle (my father's brother). My mother had a heart attack at the age of 80, which was the beginning of her health decline. Then recently, I was challenged with my own heart arrhythmia. I was fortunate enough to have good care at the Cleveland Clinic where the ablation procedure treated my symptoms - but I was careful to follow my lifestyle to avoid future issues.

I also hit my birthday this month, and my health is at the center of my thinking. Granted I can't do anything about genetics or age as a risk factor, but there's a lot I can do! Just because I'm a registered dietitian, doesn't mean I'm immune to health problems - or bad habits for that matter! The past few years have been challenging between caring for our aging parents and recovering from my own heart problems. But now that things have calmed down a bit, I'm committed to making healthier changes. For me, it's not all about losing weight; it's about being healthy and having more energy to do the things I want to do. I've done most of the steps outlined below, and now I've added even more to my regular routine. Steps are missing a specific command. Don't worry about making all the changes at once - just choose one step that you believe you can stick with, and go from there.

Some important things: If you smoke, stop it! Get a good program to quit smoking. Know your number: Manage your weight, cholesterol, LDL, and hypertension and blood glucose if you have diabetes. Find a way to stay active. Follow a plant-based diet, and follow your doctor's instructions for prescribed medications. The steps below will help you get started.

Step 1: Enhance your physical activity! Exercise lowers blood pressure, strengthens your heart, helps maintain lean body mass, burns calories, and makes you feel good! Walking is one of the easiest exercises to fit into your day. Experts recommend at least 10,000 steps a day (equivalent to 5 miles) - and yes, it's possible to adjust to a busy schedule. If you are just getting started, walk for at least 10 minutes at a time. Work this way gradually for at least 60 minutes most days to meet the recommendations of the American Dietary Guidelines (DGA).

Before you make any changes to your routine, check with your doctor. Once you get OK, use the fitness tracker or step measuring tool to calculate the number of current steps you take each day to use as your starting point. I have been using the gauge or Fitbit for over 10 years to help keep me focused. I love my Fitbit feature which reminds me to do at least 250 steps per hour! I no longer sit at my computer for hours without end.

Step 2: Cut down on high calorie drinks. Do you drink sweet drinks every day? Only 8 ounces of alcohol can pack 100 calories, and most people do not stop at 8 ounces. An additional 100 calories a day adds up to 3500 extra calories in just 5 weeks - which can mean an extra pound of weight - or an extra 10 pounds a year!

What about alcohol? Does that "healthy" 100 calories daily wine change to 2 or more glasses a day? Alcohol calories drop quickly, and they can also relax your decision to control your diet.

Avoid alcoholic beverages and alcohol for at least 30 days to break the habit. Replace them with sugary drinks such as water, sparkling water, scattered water (lemon, lime, cucumber or fruit), hot tea or ice.

Step 3: Cut the saturated fat. Animal fats found in meat, poultry, full-fat dairy products (milk, cheese, sour cream, yogurt, etc.), salad dressings, and fatty foods full of saturated fat, have been linked to heart disease. Reduce portions, cut out fat from meat, remove skin from chicken, prepare foods using low-fat cooking methods (baking, broiling, roasting), and read labels to identify foods with unsaturated or unsaturated fats for better health. . Schemes or 1% milk, low fat cheese and sour cream, low fat yoghurt, and many other fat dairy options - and many of them taste good!

Being prepared to use healthy cans of oils available at grocery stores can help control the amount of fat you consume. Choose healthy corn, safflower or olive oil to sprinkle on foods so you can bake instead of frying or brushing the food with oil.

Step 4: Eat your vegetables and fruits! Eat a variety of colors: green, red, orange, yellow and fruits contain nutrients and fiber that are essential for good health. These foods are high in vitamin C, A, potassium, antioxidants, phytochemicals; and naturally low in fat and sodium.

Fill at least half your plate with vegetables, and get fresh fruit for dessert or snacks.

Step 5: Reduce sugar. I always have sweet teeth, but I've cut out candy to improve my health and manage my weight. Most of us consume more sugar than we realize. They tempt juices, jellies, jams, cakes, sweets, cakes, pies, regular soda pop, cereals, snack bars, seasonings and many other foods.

Start with a clear source of sugar and switch to natural sugary foods such as fruits (fresh, canned without sugar, frozen without sugar, or dried - go light here as this is a concentrated source of calories). And don't think switching to raw sugar, honey or agave syrup is better - it's still simple sugar.

Read the labels: find out the grams of sugar per serving and choose lower alternatives in sugar. Another precaution: some studies show that artificial sweet foods and drinks may still create a craving for candy.

Step 6: Cut the sodium and add the potassium. Almost 1 in 3 American adults has high blood pressure, which is a major risk factor for heart disease, stroke, congestive heart failure, and kidney disease. High sodium, low potassium diet is associated with high blood pressure. Sodium is abundant in our food supply. A few years ago it was used to preserve food, but today we have a taste for it and think low sodium foods are bland. To add some zip to your diet, substitute salt and high sodium spice mix with natural spicy ingredients such as hot peppers or jalapeno peppers (also high in vitamins and antioxidants), and your favorite free spices.

Remember to read labels and avoid high sodium foods and drinks.

Increasing potassium in your diet can also help lower blood pressure. Bananas, oranges, potatoes with skin, and low V-8 sodium juice are some of my high sources of potassium (low sodium).

Step 7: Switch to full grain. Focus on grains for nutrient dense foods that can lower blood cholesterol and increase regularity. Grains are better than fine white bread, cereals, pasta, and rice.

Some of my favorite things include steamed oats, coconut and quinoa. I cook my cereal in a rice cooker, Instant pot or crock pot so I don't have to monitor the cooking which usually takes 45-50 minutes in the kitchen. Many whole grains can be used to make delicious, tasty salads or can be eaten as a hot breakfast cereal with fruits and nuts.

For a quick and tasty cereal, I like the old oats cooked for 2 minutes in microwave and it's ready to eat. Top with some cranberries and dried walnuts to add sweetness and texture. It's fast and easy, cheap, tastes great, filling - and healthy too!

Step 8: Reduce stress by taking time for yourself. With a busy schedule, it's important to make time every day to relax, renew, and restore! Walking is my time to relax, step out of daily stress and enjoy some fresh air, music, or time to talk with friends and family. Choose something everyday that will allow you time for yourself: yoga, meditation, hot baths, or whatever helps you refill. Allow yourself at least 10-15 minutes a day - Yes, you can!

Step 9: Include some stretching and strength exercises. Strength training is essential to maintaining muscle mass, strength, and balance throughout our lives. Stretching helps us to avoid injury and reduce pain. Strengthening your core will protect you from back pain and injuries, improve posture and help you look thinner - and who doesn't want it?

Step 10: Trust that you can do it. It takes time to develop new healthy habits. Try one thing you believe you can succeed with, and move on from there. The most important key is to believe that you can make changes that are a lifelong commitment to your health.

Best wishes for a healthy future!



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