I’m sure you’ve noticed, stores are filled with Valentine hearts these days. The next time you see one of these hearts, think about your own heart, and ask yourself if you are living a heart-healthy lifestyle. While the rates of death due to cardiovascular disease are on the decline, it is still the number one cause of death in the United States. Many risk factors of cardiovascular disease can be controlled by a living a healthy lifestyle and making wise choices every day. A pro-active approach to heart health also involves visiting your doctor to find out about your cholesterol and blood pressure.
While some risk factors of heart disease are out of our control, such as age and genetics, there are many things we can control through our everyday choices. Everyday choices include what you eat and how much you exercise. A heart-healthy diet is nutrient rich and includes lots of fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and fat-free or low-fat dairy products. It limits foods that are high in calories and low in nutrients, and limits saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol, and sodium. It is recommended that healthy people age 18-65 exercise at least 30 minutes a day, five days a week. The exercise you do can be whatever you enjoy the most—swimming, jogging, walking, biking, or playing a sport—the important thing is that you are engaging in physical activity. Finally, as part of a heart-healthy lifestyle, you should make the pledge to quit smoking or vow to never start. While many people associate smoking with lung cancer, which is true, it is also a major risk factor for heart disease.
One bonus to living a heart-healthy lifestyle is that it is also a cancer-preventative lifestyle. Not smoking, exercising regularly, and eating healthfully will help reduce your risks of developing certain types of cancers along with greatly benefiting your heart health.
Seeing one of cupid’s hearts should also remind you to visit your doctor and find out how your own heart may be doing. You should have your blood pressure measured to know if you have pre-hypertension or hypertension, which is high blood pressure. It is estimated that one in three U.S. adults has high blood pressure. Having hypertension or pre-hypertension can increase your risk of stroke, heart attack, heart failure, and kidney failure. While at the doctor’s office, you should also have a blood test to determine your cholesterol levels. Having high cholesterol levels may also put you at increased risk for heart disease. Knowing you have high cholesterol or blood pressure can help you and your doctor make decisions about changes you can make to help lower or decrease these numbers and lower other risk factors.
If you are looking to increase your physical activity, consider joining us as we Walk Across Texas! March 6th marks the beginning of the Hunt County Walk Across Texas Challenge. Walk Across Texas! is a free 8-week program designed to help establish a regular habit of physical activity. Teams of 8 join to walk the 834 miles across Texas, from Orange to El Paso. Each person on a team of 8 is tasked with walking approximately 1.5 miles per day. That seems like a lot to many people, but really, it’s only about 3000 steps and most people can go that distance in less than 30 minutes or achieve it throughout their daily activities. In many cases, just becoming aware of how much (or how little) you move throughout the day is the first step to a healthier lifestyle. The Walk Across Texas! program is a great way to jump start your exercise routine while spending time with friends and families.
The American Heart Association recommends 150 minutes of physical activity (moderate exercise) each week, just over 20 minutes each day. Many become discouraged with exercise before they even begin because they focus on the idea of 150 minutes of exercise each week, which can seem overwhelming. Keep in mind, everyone must start somewhere, and any activity is better than no activity!
Interested in creating a team and/or joining the Hunt County Walk Across Texas! Challenge? Team captain packets are available at the Hunt County Extension office or you may register online at http://walkacrosstexas.tamu.edu.
As always, if you have questions, concerns, or just want to chat, please feel free to come by the Hunt County Extension office, 2217 Washington Street, Greenville, Texas, 75401 or email Sarah.Latham@ag.tamu.edu.