NDSU Extension Service - Mercer County

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Moving Feet, Healthy Heart

Heart Health Month, heart disease prevention, physical activity, managing stress, blood pressure

Submitted by Dena Kemmet, Extension Agent/Family and Community Wellness

Physical activity and following a healthful eating pattern are key to maintaining heart health. Regular physical activity helps protect against cardiovascular disease and its risk factors: hypertension, obesity and diabetes mellitus. It also can reduce risk of osteoporosis, reduce stress and improve sleep and overall mood.

In honor of February being Heart Health Month, let’s put the focus on heart health.

The latest Surgeon General’s Report recommends accumulating a total of 30 minutes of moderate activity on five or more days a week. The good news for many people is that moderate physical activity doesn’t necessarily mean sweating in an aerobics class.

A brisk walk, gardening, raking leaves, shoveling snow or washing windows can help you toward the 30-minute goal, even when done in 10-minute segments. According to a national study, two-thirds of American adults fall short of this goal. According to the CDC the statistic for physical activity among North Dakotans is 45.3% of adults who achieved the equivalent of at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity per week. The Surgeon General’s Report suggests doing physical activity that burns at least 150 calories/day or 1000 calories/week.

Managing stress is another very important piece to heart disease prevention. A physiological response to stress is a faster heart beat to get the body ready for action. When a person is under prolonged stress, the body secretes a hormone called cortisol, which increases blood pressure and causes the body to retain fluid. In turn, the increased fluid places excessive stress on the heart.

Long term stress on the heart can cause high blood pressure, irregular heart rhythms, damage to arteries, higher cholesterol levels, and higher risk of developing artherosclerosis (coronary artery disease) and other heart diseases.

According to the American Heart Association, you can do a number of things to manage stress. Some suggestions are exercising, maintaining a positive attitude, not smoking, not drinking too much coffee, following a healthful diet and maintaining a healthy weight.

Incorporating small steps into your daily routines can make a significant difference in how you feel and react to stress, ultimately reducing your risk of heart disease.

If you have high blood pressure, you are at greater risk for heart attacks because your heart has to work harder. It’s often called the “silent killer” because you may not have any symptoms.

One way to lower your blood pressure is to eat a heart-healthy diet high in potassium-rich foods such as fruits and vegetables, and calcium from low-fat or fat-free dairy foods such as milk and yogurt. Reducing your sodium intake also can help lower blood pressure.

February is a great month to commit to a healthy lifestyle and make small changes that can lead to a lifetime of heart health.

Sources: Julie Garden-Robinson, NDSU Extension food and nutrition specialist; Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (www.cdc.gov)

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