Heart-Healthy Tips in Honor of American Heart Month

January 27, 2014 7:58 pm Published by Comment

Every February, the American Heart Association promotes building healthier lives. In honor of American Heart Month next month, Smith Transport has put together heart-healthy tips for our readers. But first, let’s take a look at what heart disease is.

Heart disease – also called cardiovascular disease and coronary heart disease – is a simple term used to describe several problems related to plaque buildup in the walls of the arteries, or atherosclerosis. As the plaque builds up, the arteries narrow, making it more difficult for blood to flow and creating a risk for heart attack or stroke.

Heart disease is the No. 1 killer of Americans. We can reduce heart disease by promoting a healthy diet and lifestyle.

For the first time, the American Heart Association has defined what it means to have ideal cardiovascular health, identifying seven health and behavior factors that impact health and quality of life. We know that even simple, small changes can make a big difference in living a better life. Known as “Life’s Simple 7,” these steps can help add years to your life:

  1. Don’t smoke;
  2. Maintain a healthy weight;
  3. Engage in regular physical activity
  4. Eat a healthy diet;
  5. Manage blood pressure;
  6. Take charge of cholesterol; and
  7. Keep blood sugar, or glucose, at healthy levels.

Healthy Cooking

Healthier Preparation Methods:

  • Stock up on heart-healthy cookbooks and recipes for cooking ideas.
  • Use “choice” or “select” grades of beef rather than “prime,” and be sure to trim the fat off the edges before cooking.
  • Use cuts of red meat and pork labeled “loin” and “round,” as they usually have the least fat.
  • With poultry, use the leaner light meat (breasts) instead of the fattier dark meat (legs and thighs), and be sure to remove the skin.
  • Make recipes or egg dishes with egg whites, instead of egg yolks.
  • For recipes that require dairy products, try low-fat or fat-free versions of milk, yogurt and cheese.
  • Use reduced-fat, low-fat, light or no-fat salad dressings on salads, for dips or as marinades.
  • Use and prepare foods that contain little or no salt.

You can make many of your favorite recipes healthier by using lower-fat or no-fat ingredients. Healthy substitutions can help you cut down on fats while noticing little, if any, difference in taste.

For instance, always choose low-fat options for milk, sour cream, cheeses, etc… when choosing snacks, skip the salty potato chips, cookies, crackers, and ice cream. Instead, try baked tortilla chips, fat-free cookies, rice cakes, and fat-free yogurt. The low-calorie options will make a difference.

We know it’s difficult to eat healthy when dining out, but there are certainly ways to do so. Follow these tips when ordering your meal:

  • Avoid ordering before-the-meal “extras” like cocktails, appetizers, bread and butter because these are often sources of extra fat, sodium and calories.
  • Ask for butter, cream cheese, salad dressings, sauces and gravies to be served on the side, so you can control the quantity you consume. Instead of fried oysters, or fried fish or chicken, choose boiled spiced shrimp, or baked, boiled or grilled fish or chicken. Steer clear of high-sodium foods – including any food that’s served pickled, in cocktail sauce, or in soy or teriyaki sauce. Avoid dishes with lots of cheese, sour cream and mayonnaise.
  • Be selective at salad bars. Choose fresh greens, raw vegetables, fresh fruits, and reduced-fat, low-fat, light or fat-free dressings. Avoid cheeses, marinated salads, pasta salads and fruit salads with whipped cream.
  • Choose desserts carefully. Fresh fruit, sherbet, gelatin and angel food cake are good alternatives to more traditional fat desserts. Use fat-free or 1% milk in coffee instead of cream or half-and-half.
  • Ask what kinds of oils foods are prepared with or cooked in. The most desirable oils are monounsaturated oils (olive oil, canola oil and peanut oil) and polyunsaturated oils (soybean oil, corn oil, safflower oil and sunflower oil).
  • Ask if smaller portions are available or whether you can share entrees with a companion. If smaller portions aren’t available, ask for a to-go box when you order and place half the entrée in the box to eat later.

As part of a healthy diet, an adult consuming 2,000 calories daily should aim for:

  • Fruits and vegetables: At least 4.5 cups a day
  • Fish: At least two 3.5-ounce servings a week
  • Fiber-rich whole grains: At least three 1-ounce-equivalent servings a day
  • Sodium: Less than 1,500 mg a day
  • Sugar-sweetened beverages: No more than 450 calories (36 ounces) a week

Other Dietary Measures:

  • Nuts, legumes and seeds: At least 4 servings a week
  • Processed meats: No more than 2 servings a week
  • Saturated fat: Less than 7% of total energy intake

The American Heart Association recommends that you eat a wide variety of nutritious foods daily. Remember, even simple, small changes can make a big difference in living a better life.

Physical Activity

Take the first step. Start with walking! Why? It’s easy, it works and it pays!

It’s Easy

  • Walking is the simplest way to start and continue a fitness journey.
  • Walking costs nothing to get started.
  • Walking has the lowest dropout rate of any type of exercise.
  • Walking is easy and safe.

It Works

  • Studies show that for every hour of walking, life expectancy may increase by two hours.
  • Walking for as few as 30 minutes a day provides heart health benefits.
  • Walking is the single most effective form of exercise to achieve heart health.

It Pays

  • Physically active people save $500 a year in healthcare costs.
  • Employers can save $16 for every $1 they spend on health and wellness.
  • Fitness programs have reduced employer healthcare costs by 20 – 55%.
  • Reducing just one health risk in the workplace increases productivity by 9%.
  • Reducing one health risk decreases absenteeism by 2%.

And walking isn’t your only option. Try these tips for increasing physical activity wherever you are. You may be surprised at all your opportunities to increase your physical activity every day.

Tips for Increasing Physical Activity

At Home:

It’s convenient, comfortable and safe to work out at home. It allows your children to see you being active, which sets a good example for them. You can combine exercise with other activities, such as watching TV. If you buy exercise equipment, it’s a one-time expense and other family members can use it. Try these tips:

  • Do housework yourself instead of hiring someone else to do it.
  • Work in the garden or mow the grass. Using a riding mower doesn’t count! Rake leaves, prune, dig and pick up trash.
  • Go out for a short walk before breakfast, after dinner or both! Start with 5-10 minutes and work up to 30 minutes.
  • When walking, pick up the pace from leisurely to brisk. Choose a hilly route. When watching TV, sit up instead of lying on the sofa. Or stretch. Better yet, spend a few minutes pedaling on your stationary bicycle while watching TV.
  • Stand up while talking on the telephone.
  • Walk the dog.
  • Park farther away at the mall or grocery store and walk the extra distance. Wear your walking shoes and sneak in an extra lap or two around the mall.

At Work:

Being a truck driver or in the office is typically sedentary, and work takes up a significant part of our day. What can you do to increase your physical activity during the work day? Why not…. :

  • Brainstorm project ideas with a coworker while taking a walk.
  • Create an exercise accountability partnership.
  • If you’re at a truck stop, walk around and stretch if you have a few minutes to spare.
  • Stand or walk while talking on the telephone.
  • Walk down the hall to speak with someone rather than using the telephone.
  • Take the stairs instead of the elevator. Or get off a few floors early and take the stairs the rest of the way.
  • Stay at hotels with fitness centers or swimming pools and use them while on business trips.
  • Take along a jump rope or a resistance band when you’re on the road.
  • Join a fitness center and work out before or after work.
  • Schedule exercise time on your business calendar and treat it as any other important appointment.
  • Walk around your building for a break during the work day or during lunch.

At Play:

Play and recreation are important for good health. Look for opportunities such as these to be active and have fun at the same time:

  • Plan family outings and vacations that include physical activity (hiking, backpacking, swimming, etc.)
  • See the sights in new cities by walking, jogging or bicycling.
  • Make a date with a friend to enjoy your favorite physical activities. Do them regularly.
  • Play your favorite music while exercising; enjoy something that motivates you.
  • Join a recreational club that emphasizes physical activity.
  • At the beach, sit and watch the waves instead of lying flat. Better yet, get up and walk, run or fly a kite.
  • When golfing, walk instead of using a cart.
  • Play singles tennis or racquetball with friends and family.

Quit Smoking

Smoking is the most important preventable cause of premature death in the United States. Smokers have a higher risk of developing many chronic disorders, including atherosclerosis — the buildup of fatty substances in the arteries — which can lead to coronary heart disease, heart attack and stroke.

Smoking by itself increases the risk of coronary heart disease.

Smoking decreases your tolerance for physical activity and increases the tendency for blood to clot. It decreases HDL (good) cholesterol. Your risks increase greatly if you smoke and have a family history of heart disease. Smoking also creates a higher risk for peripheral artery disease and aortic aneurysm.

Breathe clean air

It’s also important to avoid other people’s smoke. The link between secondhand smoke and disease is well known, and the connection to cardiovascular-related disability and death is also clear. Each year about 38,000 people die from heart and blood vessel disease caused by other people’s smoke. Nonsmokers who are exposed to secondhand smoke at home or at work increase their risk of developing heart disease by 25–30 percent.

Let healing begin today

If you already have heart disease, you may think, “What good will it do me to quit smoking now?” But don’t be discouraged. Your lungs can begin to heal themselves as soon as you stop harming them with more smoke. Heart disease can be prevented and controlled, but you must follow your treatment plan — and quitting smoking is a big part.


Smoking is a habit you can change. You learned to use cigarettes to feel “normal.” Now you must re-train yourself. In time, you’ll feel normal without cigarettes.

  • Identify triggers. Think about times when you want a cigarette.
  • Select coping skills. How will you cope with each of your trigger situations?
  • Put your plan into action. Review the plan, practice and be ready to act when you feel an urge to smoke.

Your Non-Smoking Life

When you quit smoking, you may feel like you’ve lost some of the pleasure in life. But that doesn’t have to be the case. When you stop smoking, your senses of taste and smell start to come back to life. So does your feeling of being in direct contact with the world, without a smoke screen to hide behind. As a nonsmoker, you can go so many places and enjoy so many experiences that were off limits to you as a smoker. Now you can watch a movie in a theater without wanting to jump up and go outside for a smoke. You can take that long trip now, without the discomfort of being unable to smoke on the plane, train or bus. And like many other things, it gets easier to do all of these things with time. Keep a list of pleasurable activities you can do when you feel urges during your transition phase.

Make February your month to begin living a healthy lifestyle. It’s essential that you measure your risk of heart disease and make a plan for how to prevent it in the near future. Use this tool to help you assess your risk.

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Source: American Heart Association

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