Auburn, Alabama — It is already February. Where did January go and all those New Year’s resolutions? You were going to stop smoking and start exercising and eating better, but then life happened and those resolutions went out the door.
Just remember, “Today is the first day of the rest of your life,” and try again. Your heart will appreciate it.
February is Heart Health Month. Here are some suggestions to improve your heart health.
No smoking! If you are a smoker – stop. Research shows that a person’s risk of heart attack greatly increases with the number of cigarettes smoked. People who smoke a pack of cigarettes a day have more than twice the risk of heart attack than nonsmokers.
Donna Shanklin, a regional Extension agent in human nutrition, diet and health offers the following tips to improve your chances of success when quitting smoking.
Support groups. Online support groups are available to help. Contact the American Lung Association for more information at http://www.lung.org/.
- Prescribed medications. Several prescription medications are available that when used in combination with support groups have been effective in helping people to quit smoking.
- Over-the-counter smoking cessation products. Research has shown that smokers who use some form of nicotine replacement therapy and participate in a support group double their chances of quitting for good.
- Making the decision to just quit. The first move has to come from the smoker, but smokers who get support from partners and other people are more likely to successfully quit.
If you are leading a ‘couch potato’ lifestyle – stop. Research has shown that a person’s risk of heart attack increases with a lack of physical activity. Physical activity is defined as any bodily movement that expends more energy than is used when you are resting. Walking to your parked car far from the door or using the stairs are physical activities. Do it more often. Walking is a pleasant activity when done for stress relief and as part of a neighborhood group; it can be called exercise when it is planned and done with the purpose of improving your health. Here are some ways you can increase your physical activity level:
- Park the car far away from the door. We all need at least 30 minutes of physical activity daily. Even so, that doesn’t mean we have to do all 30 minutes at once. Three 10-minute walks or the equivalent, add up to our daily requirement.
- Cut out one hour a day of television and clean out that closet you have been meaning to do. A bunch of fitness bursts give similar health and weight-loss benefits as one longer session.
- Take 15 minutes and take a walk break at work instead of a coffee break. Use a pedometer and keep track of how many steps you take. Studies have shown that people that wear pedometers walk more. The person who gets the most out of the use of a pedometer is the person who has a step goal (i.e. 10,000 steps per day).
- Play outside with your children or grandchildren. Adults should be role models for active lifestyles and provide children with opportunities for increased physical activity.
Eat Healthier Foods
If you know you should be eating healthier foods, educate yourself and make some small changes. For example, reduce the amount of bad fat in your diet (bad fats are those that are frequently found in dairy, meat and other animal products). A diet high in fat often leads to high LDL cholesterol. If the body has more LDL cholesterol than it requires, the excess is deposited on the walls of arteries as plaque. Too much plaque and the arteries become clogged — a condition known as arteriosclerosis. When arteries in the heart become clogged, it causes a heart attack. If arteries that lead to the brain are clogged, it can result in a stroke.
Shanklin offers the following small diet changes that can have a big affect on your heart health:
- Try a fruit or vegetable you have never eaten to replace a meat-centered meal. Lots of new apples are on the market today or maybe get some of that red leaf lettuce you have been meaning to try.
- Modify a processed food such as macaroni and cheese by adding broccoli florets to the mix. Processed food is often high in salt, sugar and fat.
- Plant a garden for spring. Container gardening is a convenient way to grow tomatoes full of that all important lycopene.
- Try eggs that have Omega-3 in them. Omega-3 enriched eggs are produced by altering the diet of laying hens. Hens are fed a special diet which contains 10 to 20 percent ground flaxseed. Flaxseed is higher in omega-3 fatty acids and lower in saturated fatty acids than other grains. As a result, the eggs produced from hens on this diet are higher in omega-3 fatty acids.