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Take This Message to Heart

UCLA Health
Dr. Sonja Rosen

February is “American Heart Month,” along with the month we celebrate Valentine’s’ Day, so it’s a good time to focus on heart health. Heart disease is still the leading cause of death in Americans, but we can decrease its incidence with a healthy lifestyle and diet.

Here are seven recommendations from the American Heart Association to remain heart-healthy as you age! Visit the AHA’s website, www.americanheart.org, for more information.

Eat a healthy diet! Eat a variety of foods from the basic food groups. Vegetables and fruits are high in vitamins and fiber, and low in calories. Unrefined whole grain foods help lower your cholesterol. Eating fish that contain omega-3 fatty acids (salmon, trout, and herring) at least twice weekly can lower your risk of heart disease. Eat fat-free or 1% dairy products. And avoid saturated or trans fats!

Stop smoking! Smoking increases your risk of heart disease, lung cancer, peripheral arterial disease, emphysema and blood clots. By quitting, you not only decrease your risk for all of these diseases, but also increase your tolerance for more physical activity.

Exercise regularly. Regular physical activity helps lower blood pressure, increase HDL or “good” cholesterol, control blood sugar, reduce stress, maintain a healthy weight, stay limber and prevent Alzheimer’s dementia. For low-impact activity, start walking 20 minutes a day, three times a week, and gradually increase to five days a week! If you have knee osteoarthritis and walking is difficult, try swimming or tai chi. Before starting any exercise program, consult with your physician.

Maintain a healthy weight. Ask your doctor about your ideal weight and don’t be discouraged if you are very overweight. The best way to lose weight is through a diet program, like Weight Watchers. Even losing 10 pounds can make you healthier.

Manage your blood pressure. Ask your doctor for your ideal reading. High blood pressure, also known as hypertension, is called a “silent killer” because it often has no symptoms and goes undetected in a high percentage of people. If you are diagnosed with high blood pressure, comply with medications to treat it. Untreated high blood pressure leads to stroke, heart attack, kidney failure and heart failure.

Know your cholesterol scores. You want to lower your LDL or “bad” cholesterol and raise your HDL cholesterol. You can lower bad cholesterol by avoiding saturated or trans fats, and consuming olive oil, canola oil and fish with omega-3 fatty acids (see above). Exercise raises your good cholesterol.

Manage blood sugar. Diabetes increases the risk of heart disease and stroke. Talk with your doctor about diabetes screening and controlling blood sugar.

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