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Janel Rodahl, right, a personal trainer at the Kandiyohi County YMCA in Willmar and a member of the wellness center staff, works with a Y member on setting a machine properly to maximize her training and workout benefit. The YMCA has a wellness blog on Areavoices.com that offered tips during the month of February on being “heart healthy.” The blog regularly offers other wellness tips, follow it at kandiymca.areavoices.com. (Submitted photos by Amy Lynn)

Show your heart some love: Three steps to living a heart-healthy lifestyle

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By Alex Flipovitch and Britney Lingl

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February was National Heart Month, and while the month is now behind us, it’s always a good time for some reminders on how we can achieve a heart healthy lifestyle.

The Kandiyohi County YMCA recently posted some tips on their Areavoices blog about being good to your heart. From exercising to eating right to managing stress effectively, the key to being healthier starts with small yet effective steps.

February is National Heart Month, a time to show your heart some love and to help someone you love show their own heart some love.

Just about everyone has been touched by heart disease in one way or another. Every community is affected by the loss of friends, neighbors, family and other loved ones to heart disease.

Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States. One in every three deaths is from heart disease and stroke, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

But heart disease can be prevented. There are some simple things you can do to prevent heart disease: watch your weight, quit smoking and stay away from secondhand smoke, control your cholesterol and blood pressure, drink alcohol only in moderation, get active, eat healthy, manage stress and talk with your doctor.

It may sound like a lot, but really it isn’t. Just take it one step at a time.

Step one: Get active

The American Heart Association recommends 30 minutes of moderate to vigorous aerobic exercise most days of the week. If you can’t get all 30 minutes in at one time, you can break it up into two 15-minute segments or even three 10-minute segments. Just get that 30 minutes in every day.

Aerobic exercises are those that use large muscles in a continuous, rhythmical manner over time. Great options for aerobic exercise include walking, using the stairs, swimming, using an elliptical machine, biking or water aerobics.

To get the maximum heart health benefit from any aerobic exercise, aim to reach between 50 and 85 percent of your maximum heart rate. To find your maximum heart rate, just subtract your age from 220.

While you’re exercising, if counting heartbeats isn’t an option (or just doesn’t make sense), a good rule of thumb is that you should be able to carry on a conversation while exercising without being too out of breath.

Step two: Eat for your heart

Heart healthy foods are foods that include antioxidants, lean proteins, fiber and omega-3 fatty acids.

Antioxidants help remove free radicals that can cause damage to heart cells. Fiber fills you up, slows down your digestion and helps you maintain a healthy weight. Omega-3 fatty acids are considered essential fatty acids because you need them and your body can’t make them on its own, so it’s important to get them from your diet. Omega-3 fatty acids help lower bad cholesterol and increase good cholesterol.

A heart healthy diet should be based around fruits and vegetables, but you do need some protein as well. Some great heart healthy foods are coldwater fish such as salmon, tuna or halibut, which are all good sources of omega-3 fatty acids.

Walnuts and other nuts (salt-free) are high in omega-3 fatty acids, but they are also high in calories, so stick to a handful. Walnuts also lower a chemical called endothelin that contributes to the inflammation that causes plaques to form in coronary arteries. Nut oils are one of the highest sources of dietary omega-3 fatty acids for heart health.

Blueberries are packed with antioxidants; just make sure that they are actual blueberries and not just something containing blueberry flavoring. Spinach has just about everything your heart needs: omega-3 fatty acids, antioxidants, B vitamins and fiber.

When it comes to protein, chicken or turkey without the skin are great sources of lean protein, almost as lean as fish. However, watch out for pre-marinated or self-basting options because they may have lots of added salt and calories. Other than poultry, the best lean meat for heart health is pork tenderloin, but if you just have to have some red meat, round steaks, roasts, tip loin, top srloin and chuck shoulder are better for you than other cuts.

Step three: Manage stress

Stress can put a strain on blood vessels and predispose a person to heart disease. Chronic and acute stress can not only affect your heart in a negative way, but it can also affect risk factors and behaviors such as high cholesterol, a person’s inclination toward smoking, the urge to overeat and lack of interest in physical activity.

One way you can help manage your stress is by building a support system. Start by talking to your family and close friends and ask them for help in reducing stress.

To manage stress, you can also:

  • Learn to identify the things in your life that trigger stress and then figure out ways to avoid them or cope better with them.
  • Schedule time for yourself. Take 20 minutes for yourself every day. 
  • Learn to say “no.” Set boundaries and stick to them. 
  • Laugh every day. While stress causes your blood vessels to constrict, positive emotions cause the opposite to happen, so take time to smile and laugh.

Yes, there are certain factors that put you at risk for heart disease that are out of your control, such as age, family history and genetic predisposition. But research is showing that living a heart healthy lifestyle can compensate for some of the risk factors that previously were thought out of your control.

So take that first step toward making your heart a healthy one by doing at least one of the three steps from above. One step can make a difference!

Read more from the Kandiyohi County YMCA Wellness blog at kandiymca.areavoices.com.

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