Nutrition-wise blog

Quick start for a healthy heart

By Jennifer K. Nelson, R.D., L.D. and Katherine Zeratsky, R.D., L.D. February 1, 2012

Did you know that about every 25 seconds someone in the U.S. is having a coronary event? This makes heart disease the leading cause of death in the U.S. And that's why the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has declared February as American Heart Month.

In recognition of the importance of heart health, Mayo Clinic is releasing a new book, "Mayo Clinic Healthy Heart for Life!" during American Heart Month. What's novel about this book is that it puts the latest guidelines for combating heart disease to work for you with an easy two-week quick-start program. It will get you working on new lifestyle habits that can help prevent heart disease.

I challenge you to jump on the healthy heart bandwagon. For the next two weeks, I want you to:

  • Eat 5. Eat at least 5 servings of fruits and vegetables every day.
  • Move 10. Increase activity and exercise at least 10 minute more than you typically do every day.
  • Sleep 8. Get 8 hours of sleep every night.

Each of these simple-sounding habits addresses complex body functions.

By eating 5 or more fruits and vegetables every day you fuel your body with powerful vitamins, minerals, fiber, antioxidants and other healthy plant compounds. These help lower cholesterol and blood sugar levels, regulate your heartbeat, and protect delicate blood vessels. These foods also are filling and displace heavier, fattier starches and meats.

By increasing your physical activity 10 minutes a day you'll burn a few more calories and make improvements in your blood pressure, cholesterol, heart and blood vessel strength, and overall fitness levels. Just get on your feet — stand up during commercials, walk while on the phone. It's a fact that sitting most of the day increases your risk for heart disease.

Did you know that sleep deprivation itself increases blood pressure and risk for heart attack?  Lack of sleep also increases risk for obesity and diabetes — which are also associated with heart disease. Chances are, if you're not rested, you're more stressed too. Get to bed earlier so you can get a good 8 hours of sleep.

Keep track every day of how you do with these goals over the next few weeks. Did you eat 5? Did you move 10? How about sleeping 8? What's important is that you try to do them.

Check back here to report your progress and share your strategies. Of course, there are other things you'll need to do for heart health. I'm sure you'll find that this quick start for a healthy heart will be enough to motivate you to make other needed healthy changes.

- Jennifer

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Feb. 01, 2012