Guest writer: Jennifer Cassetta, clinical nutritionist, personal trainer and self-defense expert.
As February comes to a close so does the focus on National Heart Month. But really, we should be focused on our hearts all year round. We especially need to keep our hearts safe from America’s number one lifestyle related disease, Heart Disease. The risk factors for developing heart disease all come down to lifestyle choices and they include:
- an inactive lifestyle
- poor diet
- excessive alcohol use
- being overweight or obese
- having Type 2 Diabetes
If you are someone you love exhibits any of those risk factors in their life, here are my top 3 tips to keep your heart strong and safe all year round:
- Cut back on inflammatory fats
Trans fats come in the form of hydrogenated oils that were made in a laboratory decades ago to help increase the shelf life of certain foods. It just so happens that over the last few decades that these fats started appearing in our foods and in our shopping carts, heart disease has also been on the rise. In fact, about 610,000 people die every year from heart disease, according to the Center for Disease Control and it is now the leading cause of death in the United States.
Trans fats are found in processed foods that contain hydrogenated oil (usually soybean) in their ingredient list. Be sure to read the entire list and not just the nutrition facts box. Check for these oils in your favorite crackers, cookies, breads, chips, candy and even peanut butter. Trans fats are slowly being replaced so they are not as easily found these days.
But, you still need to cut back on FRIED FOODS! That’s right, our beloved French fries, fried meats, potatoes and other fried vegetables. Fried chips, fried egg rolls, and fried chicken do not have a home in a healthy heart. Cut way back and if you are at risk for heart disease, cut these out altogether.
So, what should you eat for heart health?
- Add omega 3 anti-inflammatory fats to your diet
Anti-inflammatory fats reduce inflammation in your body (inflammation leads to blocked arteries and eventually heart disease). They also will raise levels of good cholesterol, your HDL levels.
They are naturally found in fatty fish like salmon, anchovies, sardines, and cod. They can also be found in plant-based foods like pumpkin seeds, walnuts, avocadoes, hemp seeds, and chia seeds. Try incorporating just a few of these foods into your meal plan.
- Get that heart pumping
Even just a slight bit of cardio per week can help transform you from a couch potato to starting a fitness journey. Yes, walking is a great form of exercise but you want to make sure that you get your heart rate up and break a sweat. Here’s some other cardio options to add to your routine:
Jump rope: Set a timer for 3 minutes and see how many jumps you can get to. Slowly increase that number over time. Then once you have mastered jumping without tripping, increase your time to 4, then 5 minutes of jump roping. It’s a great cardio workout and can be used throughout the day or as your warm up for your strength training routine.
Cycling: Whether indoor or outdoor this can be a great way to get the heart pumping while having fun. Because I live in a warmer climate, I prefer to get on my bicycle and go outdoors and use it as a means of transportation. But, I understand that cold weather climates would make that difficult so heading to an indoor cycling class is the perfect solution.
Jogging intervals: So many people have told me they can’t run or hate to run. But, I’ve gotten them to try interval jogging and my clients have learned to love it. Choose a time period, let’s start with 1 minute intervals. Whether outdoors or on a treadmill, start by walking one minute and then jogging for one minute and continue that for at least 20 minutes. You slowly build your cardio strength over time and benefit from interval training which is great for fat burning.
Wear red for health and safety!
Each February 5 is National Wear Red Day for women. Wearing red year-round will help remind you to think about heart health. Choosing a red pepper spray or personal alarm (see below) will also help you stay safe while supporting sexual violence survivors through the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network. Pepper spray is especially important if you're doing any kind of exercise or training outdoors.
Stay strong. Stay safe!