February is National Heart Month and not just because of Valentine’s Day. According to the American Heart Association, one in 2.4 American women will lose their lives to heart disease and stroke – the first and third biggest killers of women. In comparison, breast cancer kills one in 29. So let’s look at V.A.L.E.N.T.I.N.E.S. Day from another vantage point: reducing our risk of heart disease.
Vitamin D plays a significant role in the cellular structure of the heart and its pumping ability, and deficiency can lead to heart disease and stroke. Although Vitamin D is created after direct exposure to sunlight, our appropriate efforts to protect our skin from cancer can block this path. It’s difficult to get enough Vitamin D from food, short of drinking four glasses of milk daily. Ask your doctor to check your blood level of Vitamin D and ask whether supplements are appropriate.
Avoid “bad fats” like hydrogenated and saturated, and eliminate trans-fats altogether. Replace them with vegetable oils such as olive, canola, corn and soy, and those supplemented with omega-3’s. Do recognize that all fats have the same number of calories, so use even “good” fats sparingly.
Lose that belly fat as it increases your risk of heart disease, diabetes and certain types of cancer. Belly fat is usually the first area to shrink with moderate-intensity aerobic exercise and strength training with weights.
Exercise has other heart-healthy benefits: it can help control blood lipid abnormalities, blood pressure and diabetes, as well as make the heart work more efficiently during exercise and rest. Even after suffering a heart attack, people who embark on a graduated exercise program have better rates of survival, as well as a better quality of life.
Note package labeling in prepared foods and look for the types and amounts of fats and sugars. Choose foods absent in trans-fats and low in other ‘bad fats’; and look for “no added sugar” or “unsweetened” products.
Take time each day for relaxation.