By Sara Shipley, nutrition student, University of Central Oklahoma
February is National Heart Month. With heart disease as the leading cause of death in the US and the leading killer of women, an increased awareness of this disease is important. The American Heart Association encourages awareness through their GO RED campaign and promotes a heart healthy lifestyle, including physical activity and smart eating habits. In fact, this past Friday, February 3rd marked “National Wear Red Day”, which promotes awareness and advocacy for the prevention of heart disease.
Although most Performance Nutrition readers are active, there are several important issues to consider when it comes to risk factors related to heart disease.
High cholesterol, high blood pressure, obesity and tobacco use are all factors that can normally be controlled without medication(some exceptions apply to certain people). In general, minor adjustments to your eating habits can have significant benefits to lowering your risk for developing heart disease.
These adjustments include:
- Keep your blood pressure low by watching your sodium intake– high levels will increase BP.
- High cholesterol levels will increase your chances of developing atherosclerosis. When your arteries are hardened- your heart works harder to function, if it works at all. This directly leads to heart attacks.
- Lower your saturated and trans fat intake, as these types of fats have been determined to increase ‘bad’ cholesterol levels in your blood.
- Eat foods with more fiber– whole grains, fruits and vegetables. Increased dietary fiber is linked to decreased risk of high cholesterol levels, controlled blood sugar and weight loss. Obesity makes your heart work harder, and counters every benefit just listed above from fiber.
- Sugar control– natural, unprocessed sugar found in fruits and vegetables is great! However, baked goods and sodas should be moderately consumed and not a staple in your diet.
- Smoking is bad for you. Do I need to explain any further?
This message may be old news to you or maybe you forgot all the repercussions that a poor diet can have on your health. Regardless, take this short message to heart and remember that without a healthy, beating muscle in your chest- you will not be able to run, jump, swim, bike, shoot hoops or do anything. Heart health is essential, especially to athletes with added stress to our bodies.