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Did you know that heart disease is the leading killer of US Citizens? About 610,000 people die from heart disease every year in the United States. That’s 1 in 4 Americans! Medical data suggest that 80% of heart disease can be prevented. These four steps can help you stay heart healthy and avoid the nation’s leading killer:

1. Good Nutrition

Healthy Heart Food

When most people think of good nutrition, they think of going on diets, which leads them to believe they need to eat less. While the general American population does tend to overeat, that doesn’t mean you need to starve yourself to become healthy. In fact, starving yourself will cause your body to lack essential vitamins and nutrients, leaving you unhealthy and feeling drained. Don’t starve yourself, just eat the right foods.

Start a healthy diet by including fruit, vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts, seeds, fish, skinless poultry and low-fat dairy. Limit your saturated fats, salt & sodium and added sweeteners. Most beverages contain too much sugar or added sweeteners. Try opting for water instead of soda or juice. Avoid trans fats and partially hydrogenated oils, they raise LDL (bad cholesterol) and lower HDL (Good cholesterol.)  You can also save a lot of money while getting necessary protein by replacing some of your meat meals with a combination of whole grains, legumes and vegetables.

An unhealthy diet will cause plaque buildup in your arteries, restricting your blood flow and causing your heart to work overtime. If this bad diet becomes constant, you’ll be at a much greater risk of heart disease. To keep up with a healthy diet, prepare most of your meals at home rather than ordering out or getting fast food.  If you’re having trouble determining what foods are good for you and what are bad, read the nutrition facts and ingredients label before you purchase them.

2. Manage your Stress

Heart Healthy Relax

High stress contributes to high blood pressure which can lead to heart disease. In today’s fast pace world, we often become overwhelmed and anxious. How you deal with stress will factor in your risk of heart disease. Some people will turn to excessive drinking or smoking to “calm their nerves” but this will only lead to more health problems and it certainly won’t help you manage your overall stress.

Try managing your stress through positive means. With so much negativity in the world, it’s easy to get caught up in the mix. Ignore your gossipy, toxic co-worker and turn off the evening news (every story is depressing anyway.) It’s time to get positive! Pump yourself up with positive self-talk by saying things like “I got this!” or “I’ll do the best I can!” When something goes wrong, respond with “I can deal with this situation” or “I won’t let this problem get me down!” Continue your positive crusade every evening by creating and writing 5 things you’re grateful for in a gratitude journal just before bed.

While positive self-talk can put you in a good mood and get you motivated for the day, sometimes we need something a little more…. relaxing. Ask the world’s most successful people, and they’ll all agree daily meditation is an incredibly effective means to deal with stress. Meditation can be done anywhere, at any time and has been proven to gain new perspectives on stressful situations, build skills to manage your stress and reduce negative emotions. If you’re new to meditation, try searching for free meditation or yoga apps on your smartphone to help you get started.

3. Physical Activity

Physical Activity Heart Healthy

Get moving and get active to get your heart pumping. Regular physical activity not only strengthens your muscles, it also strengthens your heart. A stronger heart will pump more blood to your lungs and muscles, causing your blood-oxygen levels to rise!

When it comes to getting physically fit, getting started is always the hardest part. Staying consistent isn’t a breeze either.  The easiest way to start a physical activity regimen is by starting slow and doing what you can. You don’t NEED to join a gym to get fit. Start by walking, biking, jogging or swimming.

Once you get started, force yourself to continue EVERY DAY!  Making time is half the battle. Even if it’s only a 10 minute workout, you’ll be glad you did it. There are hundreds of ways to get a workout in, find what you enjoy and stick to it. Doing so will make it easier to stay consistent.

4. Quit Smoking (or don’t start)

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There are no benefits from smoking. We see and hear it every day in smoking statistics, anti-smoking ads and even from the warnings on cigarette packs themselves. Smoking kills, we know this, yet 40 million American’s still light up.

Smoking has been linked to heart disease, cancer and other chronic illnesses. Smoking increases heart risk, decreases tolerance for physical activity, decreases HDL (good cholesterol) and is responsible for 480,000 deaths per year (42,000 of which are from second hand smoke.)

Cigarette companies use nicotine to get their customers addicted to their product. This also makes it very difficult for a regular smoker to quit. If you are having trouble quitting, get help by talking to your doctor, downloading quitting apps and trying alternatives like nicotine gum or patch.

A Healthy Heart Means a Healthy Life.

Practicing good nutrition, managing your stress, staying active and avoiding smoking will help prevent heart disease and future cardiac problems. By sticking to these four methods you can attain a healthy heart and live a long happy life!

For more health and wellness tips, visit www.vnahg.org/Wellness-Tips.aspx