February 8, 2019

By : Manpreet Kanwar, MD

In February, our minds turn to love, valentines and matters of the heart! February is American Heart Month. It’s time to learn about your risk for heart disease and the steps you can take toward heart health.

Did you know heart disease can occur at any age? According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, high rates of obesity and high blood pressure among younger people (ages 35-64) are putting them at risk for heart disease earlier in life. In fact, the CDC says half of all Americans have at least one of the top three risk factors for heart disease: high blood pressure, high cholesterol and smoking. Sadly, heart disease remains the leading cause of death for both men and women.

The foods we eat and physical activity play a critical role in our risk for heart disease. The good news is small choices in physical activity and eating can boost your heart health!  

Physical Activity

Shoot for 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity aerobic activity. Walking is one of the simplest ways to get active and stay active. Madison East Center in Mankato is a great place to walk indoors in the winter months. Follow “The Thrive Walk” where each lap is a half mile! By being physically active, you can help keep your heart and blood vessels healthy. If you are concerned about starting an exercise program, talk to your provider, but most people can start with walking at a comfortable pace.

Lower Your Salt Intake

American adults and children eat too much sodium (salt) which increases blood pressure. Most of the sodium we eat comes from packaged food and restaurant food. Try making restaurant food an occasional treat. At home, or eating out, try to fill at least half your plate with fruits and vegetables. When cooking, sample other spices and choose canned goods labeled low sodium, reduced sodium or no salt added.

Reduce Added Sugar

Eating sugar that is added to our processed foods and beverages increases our risks for high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes and inflammation in the body. A diet high in sugar can also lead to weight gain and obesity. These factors put us at a higher risk for heart attack and stroke.

The American Heart Association recommends no more than 100 calories of added sugar per day (6 teaspoons) for women and children and 150 calories (9 teaspoons) for men. Yet the average American consumes 355 calories of added sugar a day.

Start by being aware of the sugar in your daily foods by reading the labels. Added sugars will end in the letters “ose.” Think fructose and dextrose. Syrup, molasses, cane juice and fruit juice concentrate are all added sugar. Watch for sugar in “healthy foods” such as yogurt, energy and granola bars, and cereal.

I tell my patients to eat whole foods and lots of fruits and vegetables packed with nutrients! You will likely find you feel more full and satisfied. Remember, you can still have some added sugar as an occasional treat.  

Know Your Risk 

The more you know, the more power you have to get and stay healthy. You can take the Know More Heart Health test. Learn your heart’s biological age, estimate your risk of developing cardiovascular disease and prioritize your most harmful cardiovascular risk factors.

Small choices can lead to big changes!