January 29, 2013

Adapting a heart-healthy lifestyle


---- — It’s likely that someone you know has suffered from cardiovascular disease. According to the Centers for Disease Control, 1 in 3 deaths are from a heart attack or stroke, making heart disease the leading cause of death in the United States. 

In 2011, the Department of Health and Human Services launched the Million Hearts Initiative, which seeks to prevent 1 million deaths from heart attacks and strokes by 2016. One branch of this initiative encourages Americans to make heart-healthy choices to reduce the number of people who need medical intervention for high blood pressure and cholesterol. Here are some measures that you can take.


Eat lots of fruits and vegetables, and eat a wide variety of them. The antioxidants found in them are associated with lowering your risk of heart disease. They are also generally good sources of fiber and are low in calories, which helps with weight control and in fighting heart disease.

Choose whole grains more often. Whole-grain foods are good sources of fiber and can help maintain healthy cholesterol levels. Oatmeal and whole-grain pasta are relatively inexpensive and are both good sources of fiber. Since foods full of fiber are more filling, eating them also helps with weight control.

Choose healthier fats. Fat should be limited overall, but unsaturated-fat choices are more heart healthy than saturated fats. Unsaturated fats can be found in oily fish, like salmon, tuna and trout, as well as nuts, seeds, avocados and vegetable oils. These items can be swapped into your diet for items higher in saturated fats.

Limit foods that are high in saturated and trans fats, as well as foods that are high in cholesterol. Generally, any food with a daily value of 20 percent or more would be high in that nutrient; check the label to find that information. Remember that both trans and saturated fats can increase our cholesterol and should be limited as carefully as dietary cholesterol itself.

Limit high-sodium foods. Use the label and daily value percentage to assess whether foods are high in sodium based on the serving size. Most seasoned products are high, especially soups, broths, flavored rice mixes and prepared pasta dishes. If you use them, consider cutting the seasoned food with whole food. To lower the sodium per serving, for example, cook unseasoned rice and add it to the seasoned-rice mix or add 2 cups of frozen vegetables to a canned soup. 


A major step to having a healthy heart is keeping active. For most people, the target is to be moderately active for at least 30 minutes most days of the week. Moderate activity will slightly raise your heart rate or have you breathing a little harder, but you will still be able to carry on a conversation. Clearly this level of activity is different for each individual and can change a lot within each person’s lifetime.

If you are currently not active most days, any increase can help reduce your risk for heart disease. On the other hand, if you are active but suffer from high blood pressure or high cholesterol, you may need to increase the pace or duration of your activity to see a change in your health. You may have walked regularly for your whole life, but if your blood pressure is getting higher, you may need to begin a more rigorous regiment. You should add to your activity level slowly and in short increments. For example, if you have walked for a half-hour regularly, you could start your half-hour walk with a light 10-minute jog and finish up with a 20-minute walk, gradually increasing the amount of time spent jogging.

These recommendations surely sound familiar if you follow this column. A heart-healthy lifestyle is really a healthy lifestyle. The Million Hearts Initiative not only aims to get people at risk for heart disease to make these lifestyle changes, but everyone. Since most of us will be at risk for heart disease at some point in our lives, it is a good idea to make these changes now. 

Jordy Kivett is a nutrition educator at Cornell Cooperative Extension in Clinton County. For more information, contact her at 561-7450.