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Steps can be taken to improve heart health

By Linda James

Special to the Pioneer

BEMIDJI – February is more than just the month we celebrate the love that’s in our hearts. It’s also the month we recognize the health of our hearts.  Maybe the most thoughtful thing we could do for our loved ones is commit to caring for our heart.

Heart disease is the No. 1 killer of Americans, both men and women. Unexpected sudden death is most commonly caused by heart disease. 

Forty-five percent of all heart attacks occur in people who are under age 65.  Sadly, approximately 30 percent of first-time heart-attacks are fatal.  High blood pressure can be damaging your body for years before symptoms develop and can lead to many complications, even death.  Stroke is the number three cause of deaths and the leading cause of disability among adults. 

You can prevent and reverse heart disease, even if you have a family history of heart disease, by making healthy lifestyle choices. 

Start a risk reduction lifestyle today.  The sooner you begin, the longer and stronger your heart will beat.  

These steps can help:

– If you smoke, quit as those who smoke have twice the risk. 

– Limit or omit red meat and full-fat dairy products and hydrogenated oils and trans-fats such as margarine found in processed foods.  Trans-fats raise low-density lipoprotein, the “bad” cholesterol, and lower high-density lipoprotein, the “good” cholesterol.

– Choose lean meats and limit your intake to once or twice a week.  Turkey, chicken and other poultry (without the skin) are good options. 

– Eat more monounsaturated oils (such as olive oil and avocados), omega-3 fatty acids, complex carbohydrates, whole grains, beans and lentils, a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables, and nuts and seeds, especially walnuts and almonds.

– Omega-3 fatty acids help reduce triglyceride levels linked to heart disease and strokes and help lower blood pressure and the risk of blood clots and sudden death. 

– Increase your intake of soluble fiber, as it helps eliminate cholesterol and lower “bad” cholesterol.  Oats, oat bran, and barley are good sources in addition to ground flax seeds. 

– Keep blood homocysteine level in a safe range and have adequate levels of folate, vitamin B6 and B12.

– Exercise, at least 30 to 60 minutes most days, can lower your blood pressure and reduce your risk.    

– Prevent and manage Type 2 diabetes, as it dramatically increases your risk.  The death rate from heart disease and the risk of stroke is two to four times higher for people with diabetes.

– Keep off “belly fat” weight as research indicates it increases the risk of heart disease, diabetes, certain cancers and even premature death.

– Minimize and manage stress as it can increase your risk of heart disease or trigger a heart attack, even for those with a healthy heart.

– Prevent and control high blood pressure as it can quietly damage your body for years before symptoms develop.  See Mayo Clinic’s “DASH” diet.

– Limit alcohol. Resveratrol in red wine can increase the “good” cholesterol (drink moderately).