Every February the American Heart Association runs its American Heart Month campaign to raise awareness of heart disease, the leading cause of death in the United States. Cardiovascular disease describes a range of conditions affecting your heart, including coronary artery disease, hypertension and atherosclerosis all of which are caused by high blood pressure, high cholesterol, obesity and diabetes. Though family history and genetics have an important part in the development of heart disease and all of the conditions that lead to it, lifestyle factors play a huge role in placing you at risk. Despite a genetic predisposition, your food and lifestyle choices can also work against heart disease as a preventative measure to decrease your risk.

In celebration of the month of love, focus on making your heart the healthiest it can be by making the following lifestyle changes.

• Increase your intake of fruits and vegetables. Maintaining a balanced diet that includes a variety of fruits and vegetables is the best way to feed your body the nutrients it needs. Fruits and vegetables contain vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals that have disease fighting properties. Likewise, fruits and vegetables are lower in calories than most foods and can help you manage your weight to prevent obesity related conditions that lead to heart disease.

• Eat less red meat. Your choice in protein is a major player in your heart health. Red meat, such as beef and pork (especially when cured or processed) contains high amounts of saturated fat, which raise your blood cholesterol, thus increasing your risk for heart disease. Lean protein sources such as chicken, turkey and fish contain little to no saturated fat, which is better for your heart. It is recommended that you eat fish 2-3 times per week to supply your body with heart healthy monounsaturated fats and essential fatty acids.

• Limit your sodium intake. While factors such as age, lack of exercise, stress, and use of cigarettes and alcohol increase blood pressure, dietary changes can help reduce blood pressure. Sodium is a culprit of raising blood pressure, but this doesn’t just mean adding salt to your food! Hidden sodium is a risk to Americans because it is unexpectedly in most foods you will find in the supermarket. Here is a list of the “Salty Six” – the top 6 foods that the American Heart Association advises you to be aware of:
1. Pre-made breads
2. Cured and processed meats
3. An average slice of pizza
4. Prepared poultry
5. Canned Soup
6. Pre-made sandwiches and burgers from fast food restaurants

• Avoid foods or beverages with a lot of added sugar. Getting too much added sugar in your diet has been shown to significantly increase your risk for cardiovascular disease as they contribute to obesity, high blood pressure and high cholesterol. Such foods include sugar-sweetened beverages, fruit drinks, dairy desserts, baked goods, candy, ready to eat cereals and yeast breads. Naturally occurring sugars like those in fruits and natural fruit juices are NOT included in this list.

• Quit smoking. Smoking increases your risk factor for developing atherosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries, which can lead to coronary heart disease and stroke. Though smoking is an independent risk factor for heart disease, when combined with other risk factors it increases your risk even more. Smokers have a more difficult time being physically active. In addition, smoking increases the tendency for blood to clot and decreases HDL (good) cholesterol.

• Limit alcohol consumption. Alcohol is a social pastime for many people, but the American Heart Association recommends you limit alcohol consumption to 1-2 drinks per day for men and one drink per day for women. High alcohol consumption can be dangerous, as it can lead to high blood pressure, obesity and stroke.

Exercise your heart. Being physically active has been proven to keep your heart strong and healthy, thus decreasing your risk for cardiovascular disease. Keep in mind that exercise doesn’t always have to mean a structured visit to your local gym. Walking, biking, swimming, jogging, hiking, dancing and skiing are ways you can stay physically active without a gym membership.

These tips might seem overwhelming at first, but you don’t have to make these changes all at once. Making one lifestyle change at a time is enough to improve heart health. Choosing nutritious foods and remaining physically active is your most powerful weapon for fighting cardiovascular disease!

Author's Bio: 

Bonnie R. Giller helps chronic dieters break free of the pain of dieting and get the healthy body they love. She does this by creating a tailored solution that combines three essential ingredients: a healthy mindset, caring support and nutrition education.

Using her signature Freedom to Eat Forever system, Bonnie helps her clients support and honor their mind and body. The result is they lose weight, keep it off without dieting and live a healthy life of guilt-free eating.

Bonnie is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and Certified Intuitive Eating Counselor and has her Master of Science in Clinical Nutrition. She has worked in medical nutrition therapy and counseling for over 26 years.

Bonnie is very passionate about helping her clients regain the trust in themselves and their bodies so they can shift away from a diet mentality and learn to listen to their inner hunger signals. She is known for providing caring support and motivation as her clients reacquaint themselves with their inner wisdom.

Get a copy of Bonnie’s Free e-Book, “5 Steps to a Body You Love without Dieting” at www.DietFreeZone.com

To learn more about Bonnie, visit www.brghealth.com