February is American Heart Health Month

By Phyllis Picklesimer
Media/Communications Specialist, University of Illinois College of ACES News and Public Affairs

URBANA, Ill. — As Valentine’s Day approaches, our thoughts center on affairs of the heart, and our minds are filled with visions of chocolates, flowers and special meals. Let’s not forget, though, that the care of our physical heart is every bit as important, said University of Illinois Extension nutrition and wellness educator Laura Barr.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that cardiovascular disease (CVD) is the primary cause of death in the United States, with one in every three deaths resulting from heart disease and stroke. That translates into 2,200 deaths per day,” said Barr.

These illnesses are leading causes of disability, decreasing work productivity and stifling recreational activities, she noted.

CVD also carries a high price,” Barr said. “Heart disease and stroke hospitalizations in 2010 cost more than $444 billion for health care expenses and lost production. Heart health is a quality-of-life issue, and it is important to be proactive about caring for your heart.”

The top lifestyle risk factors for CVD are smoking, a sedentary lifestyle, and a high dietary intake of saturated fats and sodium, she said.

As individuals, we have control over our habits, but making positive changes is never easy. It takes determination and a plan to make and sustain certain changes, she said.

The expert said that it’s best to work on one or two habits at a time. “Too many changes at one time may lead to frustration and the possibility of giving up all together,” she said.

If you smoke, get help to quit. This one habit alone can make or break your present and future quality of life,” she said.

Barr also advised being physically active for at least 30 minutes most days of the week.

For support, find a sport, facility or person that motivates active lifestyles,” she said. “Learn about healthy eating through credible sources such as universities, professional networks or government agencies. Internet resources or advertisements may have messages that have not been proven scientifically and are biased in their claims.”

She suggested finding a medical group that you trust and where you feel comfortable to establish a wellness file.

An annual exam is a great way to prevent disease and illness,” she said. “The numbers below measure the state of health of our physical bodies. Have your physician review a healthy weight range and see if you fall in those parameters.”

• Your ideal weight should fall into a certain range determined by your height.

• Blood pressure should be less than 120/80 mm/HG.

• Total cholesterol should be less than 200 mg/dL.

• LDL cholesterol should be less than 100 mg/dL.

• HDL cholesterol should be greater than 40 mg/dL.

• Triglycerides should range from 150-199 mg/dL.

• Fasting glucose should range from 70-99 mg/dL.

The best way to maintain a healthy weight is to be more physically active. Activity results in improved physical fitness, concentration and mood, plus a stronger body. This is a win-win situation for sure, she said.

Discover health improvements as you move toward a diet high in vegetables and fruit and low in sodium, sugar and saturated fats,” she said. “Saturated fats tend to be solid at room temperature and are mostly found in animal food products.”

Barr urges readers to find out if they have high blood pressure or cholesterol, and if they do, to get effective treatment.

Get screened for pre-diabetes, especially if you are overweight,” she said. “And practice control of your heart health by following your doctor’s prescription instructions.”

Medical costs will stay lower if we are proactive and prevent big problems by taking care of our bodies, she noted.

Let’s start today by finding preventive medical care with a trusted physician, establishing one or two health goals, and finding a support system to encourage us to reap these health benefits,” she said.

From the Feb. 13-19, 2013, issue

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