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Getting into a healthy beat for Heart Month

Start with simple steps like walking and checking labels, and you'll be surprised how good you feel

02/15/2013 5:37 PM

03/14/2013 3:16 PM

February, if you haven't heard by now, is Heart Month.

Heart disease is the number one killer of women and is more deadly than all forms of cancer combined, according to the American Heart Association (AHA). That means one in three women die each year from the disease, or one woman every minute.

Heart disease is a threat for women and men alike. You are powerful against it, and you can stop the killer before it gets to you. All it takes is adopting a few simple, healthy (and free!) habits. Claire Kinzy, senior director of communications and marketing for the North Texas American Heart Association, recommends two easy habits -- one for your diet and one for exercise -- to incorporate this month. Your heart (and your loved ones) will thank you.

Diet

The foods you choose to eat (and how much you intake) can affect other preventable risks like cholesterol levels, blood pressure, diabetes and obesity. Changing your diet takes discipline, but even very small changes can provide huge benefits.

"Let's talk about salt," Kinzy said. While the AHA recommends a limit of 1,500 milligrams per day, the average American consumes a whopping 3,400 milligrams per day. "The salt shaker isn't necessarily to blame here, as up to 75 percent of sodium that Americans consume comes from packaged foods." Kinzy advises reading food labels when you go shopping, and choose lower sodium options. She also suggests using herbs and spices to flavor foods, instead of immediately turning to salt.

The Salty Six is a list created by the AHA of the biggest sources of hidden salt. Any idea what's on the list? You might be surprised. The Salty Six list includes bread/rolls, pizza, poultry products, cold cuts, sandwiches and soups. "Another reason why it's so important to read those labels," Kinzy added.

Having more meals at home (as opposed to eating out) is another easy way to reduce sodium intake. "If you're looking for support to change your salty ways, consider participating in the AHA's Sodium Swap Challenge," Kinzy suggested. Visit www.heart.org/sodium for more information.

Exercise

Even if the word "exercise" alone is enough to make you quit reading, don't stop short just yet. "First things first," Kinzy said. "If you're not currently engaged in an exercise program, February is the perfect month to start. It's so important to be physically active every day if possible."

Research shows that exercising just 30 minutes a day for five or more days a week can lead to lower blood pressure, lower cholesterol and a healthy weight. We're not talking about committing to some crazy, intense workout program, either. "The most important part is to do something," she said. "Get your blood pumping and work up to a comfortable level, even if it means starting off with 10 minutes a day."

So what are you going to do in February for exercise? Just walk. "The good news about walking is that it's free, it's easy to do, and there's no special equipment or memberships required."

Kinzy gives the following tips for working more walking into your day:

Park farther away from the office (or mall or grocery store) and take the stairs instead of the elevator.

Take three 10-minute breaks during the day to go on a walk around your office building.

Wake up 30 minutes earlier and walk around your neighborhood -- a great way to get the day started.

Hit the mall and make a few extra laps when shopping for a new outfit.

Grab a friend and visit one of numerous trails and outdoor recreation centers in the Metroplex.

"You can also go to www.mylifecheck.org and take an online assessment to gauge cardiovascular fitness, and get tips on what you can do to improve your score. It's a really good resource," Kinzy said.

By taking small, easy steps toward changing diet and exercise habits, you can lower your risk for heart disease. Be patient and keep working toward the goal of a healthy heart.

Remember, the goal is the show your heart some love this month, and well into the future.

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