February is National Heart Month, which means it’s time we talk about heart health and how we can take better care of it. Heart disease is the leading cause of death for men and women in the United States and every year, 1 in 4 deaths are caused by heart disease. While genetics, family history, age are beyond our control, we can still prevent/delay the onset of heart disease by making small, healthier lifestyle choices every day. I am not suggesting you to do a complete pantry makeover or start running 5 miles everyday because it’s not a practical goal for most of us. Here are 5 realistic, achievable ways (and a reminder) on how you can take better care of your and your family’s heart.
Get your yearly physical – I cannot emphasize how important it is to know where your health stands, regardless of how healthy you think you are. I think healthcare professionals are the worst. Many people don’t want to know their blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugar levels but prevention is better than a cure, no? I highly encourage a yearly physical esp. if you are overweight and have family history of chronic health diseases. I shared my experience here from last year if you are interested and I will be going for one soon. If you cannot go for a full physical, at least get your blood pressure checked at a pharmacy (free of charge)!
Watch your sodium intake – Sodium is an essential nutrient but most of us get way too much sodium than we need. Most Americans consume about 3,400 milligrams of sodium a day — more than twice the 1,500 milligrams recommended by the American Heart Association. Approximately 75 percent of the sodium we eat comes from sodium added to processed foods (canned, frozen, prepackaged) and restaurant foods, which is why it is important to eat home-cooked meals when possible.
Choose low sodium canned beans (rinse them), no salt added/low sodium broths/stocks while cooking in order to reduce your sodium intake. Read food label/ingredient list when purchasing prepacked food and opt for low salt variety when possible.
Be physically active – Regular exercise is good for your overall health and wellness, especially your cardiovascular health! There are hundreds of studies that have shown how physical activity helps reduce blood pressure, increase HDL (good cholesterol), and decrease the level of CRP (C-reactive protein – a sign of inflammation), so it should be a priority item for all of us! Start somewhere today – go for a walk, jump on a treadmill, get yourself a bike!
Quit smoking – Pretty self-explanatory right? Smoking is an addiction that is very difficult to break. But do not stop trying to quit!!! Also, if you already haven’t, try this four-step way to kick your habit:
On Day 1, cut the number of cigarettes you smoke by half
On Day 3, cut the number of cigarettes you smoke in half again
And on Day 5, cut your smoking in half again
On your Quit Day… quit! (YOU CAN DO IT)
Manage your stress – Chronic stress is bad for your health as it raises your blood pressure, blood glucose, and stress hormones. Also, the way you manage makes a big difference because behaviors such as smoking, drinking, overeating, not exercising during stress can make matters even worse. All these factors directly and indirectly increases your risk of getting heart attack/stroke which is why it is important to manage your stress.
We spend billions of dollars on cure/treatment of chronic diseases in this country rather than prevention, which frustrates me sometimes. However, as a healthcare professional, it is my duty and passion to share information and raise awareness on healthier lifestyle and I can only hope that prevention will become more mainstream someday.
Lots of heavy but important talk today. I hope you will share this post among your friends, families, and loved ones as a reminder that small, realistic lifestyle changes can help prevent heart disease.
PS. February is also Cancer Prevention Month and here’s a quick good info on mesothelioma (somewhat rare but deadly cancer caused primarily by the inhalation of asbestos fibers).
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