It seems that everywhere you turn on Valentine’s Day there are hearts: chocolate hearts, candy cinnamon hearts, heart-shaped love notes. Unfortunately not all of these sweets are all that healthy for your actual heart! This year, with hearts top of mind, let’s take a look at how we can be heart healthy.

Each year it is estimated that 17 million people worldwide die from cardiovascular disease, most from heart attacks and strokes.1 Sadly, many of these deaths are related to factors that could easily have been avoided such as tobacco smoking, physical inactivity, and an unhealthy diet.1

Change is always hard but if you want to lower your risk of cardiovascular disease it’s important that you embrace a heart-healthy lifestyle. Here are some tips to help you get started today:

  • Portion size is as important as what you eat. Too much of almost anything will lead to an increase in your calorie, fat and cholesterol intake. Being familiar with the suggested serving sizes will help you better control your portions2
  • Increase your fruit and vegetable intake, as they are not only a great source of vitamins and minerals but many are also low in calories and high in fiber – which will help you feel full for longer2
  • Choose whole grains as they are a great source of fiber and help regulate blood pressure2
  • Avoid unhealthy fats and cholesterol found in foods such as butter and  margarine, and shortening as they can increase your risk of heart attack and stroke2
  • Make time for exercise daily. Although it’s challenging with a busy schedule, it’s still important to set aside exercise time. Thirty minutes of aerobic activity every day is recommended, but even a brisk daily walk is highly effective3
  • Don’t smoke and if you do quit today! Chemicals in tobacco can damage your heart and blood vessels increasing your chance of developing atherosclerosis (narrowing of the arteries) which can increase your risk of having a heart attack4

Although following the recommendations of your doctor is still required, the tips suggested above are a great addition to becoming more heart healthy and reducing your risk of cardiovascular disease.

For more information and tips, please visit the World Health Organization’s website at: http://www.who.int/cardiovascular_diseases/en/

Jennifer Villa Kearins

References:

http://www.who.int/cardiovascular_diseases/resources/atlas/en/

http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/heart-healthy-diet/NU00196

http://www.heart.com/10-heart-healthy-exercise-tips.html

http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/heart-disease-prevention/WO00041

Image: Barbtrek, http://www.flickr.com/photos/barbtrek/5418762271/