Now that March is here, everyone is looking forward to spring, warmer weather, and getting outdoors. As you look forward, though, don’t forget to look back to February! February was Heart Month, and the lessons learned for good health during that time shouldn’t be forgotten as soon as we all turn the page on the calendar.
Here are some simple things to remember—and do—to help take care of your ticker and keep it in great shape for the long term:
- Learn about good fats and bad fats. Fat is actually an important part of a healthy diet, but it’s all about the type of fat you take in. Try to reduce your intake of saturated fats (read nutrition labels to see how much saturated fat is in the foods you like, and be prepared to be surprised) and trans fats (harder to find, but a key phrase on any ingredient list is “partially hydrogenated” oil). Meanwhile, replace what you’ve cut out with good fats—unsaturated—found in such things as olive and sunflower oil, nuts, avocados, and fish.
- Ease up on the meat-based protein. Eating too much protein from meats that are high in saturated fats can raise your LDL, or bad cholesterol. Try occasionally substituting other types of protein in place of high-fat meats, such as beans, fish, yogurt, nuts, and peanut butter.
- Watch those cholesterol numbers. There are many easy ways to cut your bad cholesterol intake, including: reading those nutrition labels (there they are again!), substituting olive oil or other veggie oils for butter when cooking, eating oatmeal (oatmeal is an anti-cholesterol powerhouse), consuming more fresh fruits and vegetables, and lowering your intake of meat and eggs. Paying attention to what fats you’re taking in (see #1) is also really important here.
- Exercise. Plain and simple. 30 minutes of exercise a few days a week can have a major impact on the health of your heart and many other systems in your body. Recent studies have shown that a combination of aerobic exercise and weight/resistance training has the biggest impact, but even small choices you make every day can add up to better heart health. Take the stairs; park far away from the store; walk the dog a little farther.
- Lose some weight. Losing even a few pounds goes a long way towards a healthier heart. Your heart doesn’t have to work nearly as hard, your risk for heart disease goes down, and your metabolism may kick into higher gear, resulting in more efficient burning of sugars and carbs.
If you’re thinking of doing #5, it’s important for you to talk to your doctor about your various risk factors and if there is any kind of exercise you should avoid based on your medical history. To help the conversation with your doctor, you can prepare yourself with such information as your current diet, your current exercise level, and your Body Mass Index, or BMI. BMI assesses your body weight relative to your height, and is usually a good indicator of the amount of body fat you’re carrying. You can use an online BMI calculator, or calculate it yourself by multiplying your weight in pounds by 703, dividing that number by your height in inches, then dividing again by your height in inches. Then compare your final number to the following:
- Underweight: under 18.5
- Normal: 18.5 – 24.9
- Overweight: 25.0 – 29.9
- Obese: 30.0 and above
Keep in mind that the BMI scale is only a generalized tool and not an exact scientific calculation, and there are certain exceptions to the numbers above. Still, it’s a place to start the conversation. Based on your BMI calculation and the other information you bring to the table, you and your doctor can decide on a healthy weight-loss goal that fits your body type, age, and lifestyle. That coupled with the other suggestions above will send you on your way to a healthier heart, even now that February is over!