Diet Diva
Diet Diva

Get advice on healthy eating, nutrition, and weight loss from expert dietitian Tara Gidus. 

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Keep Your Heart Healthy

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I think it is because Valentine's Day is in February that the month is associated with hearts. February is National Heart Month, so I thought it fitting for my first post in February to be about how to keep your heart healthy.

Heart disease is the #1 killer of men AND women in the United States. More than any cancer or other disease.

Prevention is key. Major risk factors for heart disease include:
  • Gender. Men have a greater risk of heart attack than women, and they have attacks earlier in life. In most age groups, more men than women will have a stroke in a given year. At all ages, more women than men die of stroke.
  • Heredity and Race. African Americans have great risk of heart disease and stroke than Caucasians. But it is still #1 killer for both groups.
  • Overweight and Obesity. If you are carrying around too much fat, especially in the waist, you are at higher risk of health problems. Take a tape measure and measure around your waist at the largest area. If it is great than 35 inches for women or 40 inches for a man, you are at high risk for heart disease.
  • High Blood Pressure. It's called the "silent killer" because it usually has no symptoms and contributes to many heart attacks and strokes. High blood pressure (also called hypertension) is defined as a reading higher than 140/90. Prehypertension is between 120-139 over 80-89. If you have either pre or full blow hypertension, see your doctor.
  • High Blood Cholesterol. People who have a total cholesterol above 240 mg/dl have twice the risk of coronary heart disease as people whose level is desirable (less than 200 mg/dl). However, I don't even look at total cholesterol anymore because I look at the good and the bad cholesterol. Ideally, you want your "good," or HDL, cholesterol to be higher than 60 mg/dl (less than 40 is high risk). You also want your "bad," or LDL, cholesterol to be less than 100 mg/dl (greater than 160 is high risk). Triglycerides should be less than 150 mg/dl.
  • Tobacco Smoking. This is the #1 preventative health risk for heart disease. Secondhand smoke isn't any better, so if you live with a smoker, tell them to take it outside and don't smoke in the car. When you stop smoking (not matter how long or how much you smoked) your risk of heart attack and stroke starts to drop. In time, you can get your risk as low as a nonsmoker's. Click here for tips on how to quit.
  • Physical Inactivity. Regular physical activity improves blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugar levels and lowers your risk of type 2 diabetes, osteoporosis, obesity, depression, and breast and colon cancers. You can gain health benefits from doing just 30 minutes of moderate intensity exercise for a total of 30 minutes daily.
  • Diabetes. Having diabetes greatly increases risk of heart disease and stroke. If you have diabetes, control your blood sugar through proper diet and exercise and take your medications as prescribed. Diabetes is defined as a fasting blood glucose of 126 mg/dl or greater. Pre-diabetes means you have impaired glucose tolerance and you are at very high risk of getting diabetes in the future if you do not change your habits (lose weight, exercise, eat right). Fasting blood sugar of 100-125 mg/dl is indicative of pre-diabetes.
For signs and symptoms of heart attack or stroke, visit this link to the American Heart Association.
Stay tuned for tips on what to eat to keep your heart healthy the rest of the week!
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About the Author


MS, RD, CSSD, LD/N

Tara Gidus is a nationally recognized expert and spokesperson on nutrition and fitness.

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