February is American Heart Month. Did you know that nearly one out of four Idaho deaths are due to heart disease? That’s right on par with the national average for heart disease, which is the leading killer among American men and women. Although we may think of Idaho as a state with an active, healthy lifestyle, the truth remains that a quarter of our population is suffering from heart disease. But perhaps the most “disheartening” thing about the statistics is that heart disease is preventable.
Heart disease is a blanket term for conditions such as cardiovascular disease, coronary heart disease, and stroke. Take a look at some of the statistics reported in 2008 for Idaho in relation to cardiovascular disease risk. Nearly 26 percent of Idahoans had high blood pressure. About 38 percent of those screened had elevated blood cholesterol. Nearly 8 percent had diabetes, and 19 percent were current smokers. Furthermore, 63 percent were overweight or obese, 44 percent reported that they’d had no exercise in the last 30 days, and a whopping 78 percent ate fruits and vegetables less than the recommended 5 times a day. In most cases, we are nearly even with the national average, give or take a percentage point or too. So if there’s good news, it’s that we’re not the only ones in this predicament.
However, with statistics like these, it’s easy to see why heart disease is prevalent in Idaho. On the other hand, if you take a closer look at those figures, you’ll notice something. Idaho’s three worst risk factors—weight, exercise, and diet—are all preventable or manageable.
Of course, quitting smoking, and working to lower your blood pressure and cholesterol are also important, but let’s take a look at the “big three” on that list. With a little work, you can shed pounds, change your diet, and move a little each day to reduce your risk of heart disease. In fact, those three are so closely related that once you start working on one, the others will follow.
Losing weight is the answer to many health issues. Once you take the approach that you’re making changes for your health rather than focusing on what size jeans you’re hoping to fit into, it will be much easier to make progress. There are a million ways to do it, but the most effective, time-proven way to lose weight is to eat less and move more. Reducing calories while increasing activity is all you need to do. Forget about crazy diets, extreme training programs, and magic pills. Any results you see on those “programs” will be fleeting once you realize you can’t sustain that activity over the long term. Instead, create good habits today and maintain them tomorrow.
Aim for a healthy diet, rich in fruits and vegetables, lean protein, and whole grains. These foods provide heart-healthy fiber and help you feel full, so you’ll reduce calories and eat less. Limit salt, trans fats, and saturated fats. One of the best ways to do this is to cut back on processed foods. With excess sodium, sugar, and fat, processed foods provide little nutritional benefits for our bodies, enabling us to pack on pounds. Choose fresh, whole foods whenever possible to help you lose weight and improve your health.
Finally, take a good look at your activity level and figure out a way to get yourself moving. Wearing a pedometer each day is a tremendous aid in heightening your awareness of how much, or how little, you move. Aim for 10,000 steps each day as a minimum, and you’ll begin to see results. A good basic plan will include cardio four to five days a week, and strength training two to three days a week. The key is consistency. On days you don’t do a formal workout, try to stay active by taking a walk through your neighborhood or some other moderate activity. Walk while you talk on the phone, or do some yoga while you watch TV. Do anything to avoid sitting on the couch. Many of us, including the Boise Healthy Living Examiner, have jobs that require us to sit at a desk for hours at a time. Set a timer and get up at least once an hour to stretch your legs. Just walk for five minutes. That email can wait.
The wonderful thing about these three goals is that they have a pleasant snowball effect: a healthier diet, coupled with regular physical activity, will lead to weight loss. The more you lose, the more you’ll want to maintain your healthy habits. And as a result, you’ll reduce your risk for heart disease.
To learn more about American Heart Month, click on this link.
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