Three Ways to Love Your Heart
Healthy Heart for Life
Book by the Mayo Clinic / Format: hardcover edition.
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American Heart Month
Some hearts are simple, handmade valentines cut from fuzzy construction paper. Others are elegant greeting cards embellished with ribbons and lace.
Some hearts are shiny metallic boxes filled with delectable chocolates. Others are tiny sugar candies printed with quirky messages.
People give a lot of different hearts on Valentine's Day. But no heart is more important than your own. It is a gift that keeps on giving as long as you take care of it.
Known as the month for friends and lovers, February is also American Heart Month. This annual observance promotes heart health awareness and disease prevention.
Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), one in three deaths occur from heart disease, heart attack, or stroke.
Heart disease impacts everyone, but you can play a role in its prevention. Protect yourself from heart attack and stroke by understanding your risks and making heart-healthy changes. Here are three ways to love your heart.
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1. Eat Your Chocolates
Did you get a box of chocolates for Valentine's Day? Go ahead and eat them. Nutritionists say they are good for your heart health.
Cocoa, chocolate's main ingredient, reduces your heart disease risk. The dietary flavonols in cocoa beans shield your body from environmental toxins. Their antioxidant effects reduce the cell damage that is common in heart disease. Flavonols also lower blood pressure and improve vascular function.
Dark chocolate is the best source for flavonols. Chocolate with at least 65 percent pure cocoa have the most impact on vascular health. It reduces blood pressure and cholesterol levels and improves blood flow to the heart and brain.
According to the Mayo Foundation for Education and Research, chocolate may also reduce your risk of diabetes, heart attack, and stroke. However, nutritionists recommend eating chocolate in moderation. In addition to healthy flavonols, many commercial chocolates are high in sugar, fat, and calories.
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2. Get Your Move On
Your heart muscle requires strength training just like your abs, biceps, and hamstrings. According to WebMD Medical Reference, an inactive lifestyle is a top risk factor for heart disease.
Regular exercise is the best way to strengthen your heart. Exercise, particularly aerobic activity, benefits your heart in numerous ways. It strengthens your heart muscle and vascular system, improves circulation, increases energy, and lowers blood pressure.
Aerobic exercise uses your large muscle groups. Although it strengthens your lungs, bones, and muscles, it most benefits your heart. Common aerobic activities include walking, jogging, bicycling, dancing, tennis, and swimming.
The American Heart Association recommends 30 minutes of exercise on five days a week. Even if you divide this into 10- or 15-minute segments, your heart will grow stronger. A strong heart does its job with fewer beats. Medical experts say this can save more than 4,000 heart beats a year.
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3. Know Your ABCS
The CDC encourages Americans to know their ABCS. No, not the letters of the alphabet. Regarding heart health, ABCS is an acronym for four specific heart-healthy practices:
A -- Aspirin for people at risk. Ask your doctor if you should take an aspirin every day. Low-dose aspirin therapy may prevent heart attack and stroke, especially if you smoke or have diabetes, high blood pressure, or high cholesterol.
B -- Blood pressure control. When your blood pressure rises, your heart must work harder than normal. This puts a strain on your heart muscle and blood vessels. High blood pressure may cause an enlarged heart, blood vessel damage, or stroke. Check your blood pressure regularly, and do what you can to keep it under control. If you have high blood pressure, your doctor can prescribe medications.
C -- Cholesterol management. Healthy cholesterol is a good thing; it builds new cells, insulates nerves, and produces hormones. However, you can have too much of a good thing. Excess cholesterol can build up in your arteries and cause a heart disease called atherosclerosis. If a blockage cuts off your blood supply, you can have a heart attack.
S -- Smoking cessation. Most people associate cigarette smoking with lung disease, but 20 percent of heart disease deaths in the United States are related to smoking. Quitting smoking is one of the best ways to love your heart.
Knowledge is Power: Heart Disease Risks and Prevention
Reference Sources / Further Reading
- AHA. (n.d.) "American Heart Association Guidelines." American Heart Association. Retrieved February 13, 2012.
- CDC. (January 30, 2012) "Be One in a Million This American Heart Month. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved February 13, 2012.
- WebMD. (n.d.) "Exercise to Keep Your Heart Healthy." WebMD Medical Reference. Retrieved February 13, 2012.
- Zeratsky, Katherine. (February 4, 2012) "Can Chocolate be Good for My Health?" Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research. Retrieved February 13, 2012.
Copyright © 2012. Annette R. Smith. All rights reserved.
Published: February 13, 2012 / Modified: March 27, 2013.
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