February is the month to celebrate your heart. Not only do we celebrate Valentine’s Day, but we also observe American Heart Month to raise awareness of heart disease.
The #1 cause of death in the US is heart disease. However, many of these deaths and risk factors are preventable. The first step toward prevention is having a healthy lifestyle. That means making healthy food choices and being physically active. For most of us, living a healthy life is simply a commitment we make to make better choices like eating healthier and getting exercise. It’s a challenge, but it’s within our reach. Unfortunately for low-income families and individuals, the food they can afford (if any at all) is usually not healthy food. Low cost generally means little or no nutritional value – junk food, empty calories and very few nutrients if any.
Second Harvest is working to change that. We strive to give those in need access to wholesome, nutritious food including fresh fruits and vegetables through a good mix of perishable and non-perishable foods. Our Farm to Family program connects unused produce from farmers and packing sheds to those who need it most and have the least access to it. This program is growing quickly; in 2014 we collected and distributed over 3 million pounds of local fruits and vegetables that would’ve otherwise ended up in the landfill.
While we are working toward making sure everyone can easily get access to the nutritious food they need, it’s up to each of us to make sure that we take care of our hearts. The American Heart Association has determined “The Simple 7” – seven factors which determine our heart health.
1. Get active: We all know that exercise is good for us, but nearly 70% of Americans do not get the physical activity they need. Living an active life is one of the most rewarding gifts you can give yourself and those you love. Simply put, daily physical activity increases your length and quality of life.
2. Lose weight: Imagine carrying around a 30-pound backpack all day, every day! It would be a strain, just like extra body weight. When you shed extra fat and unnecessary pounds, you reduce the burden on your heart, lungs, blood vessels and skeleton. You give yourself the gift of active living, you lower your blood pressure and you help yourself feel better, too.
3. Reduce blood sugar: Lowered blood sugar helps protect your vital organs. When you reduce excessive sugars, you are giving yourself the best chance for a healthy life.
4. Stop smoking: Smoking damages your entire circulatory system, shorten your life and is one of our nation’s top causes of early death. As soon as you quit your lungs can begin to heal.
5. Manage blood pressure: High blood pressure is the single most significant risk factor for heart disease. When your blood pressure stays within healthy ranges, you reduce the strain on your heart, arteries and kidneys which keeps you healthier longer.
6. Control cholesterol: When you control your cholesterol, you are giving your arteries their best chance to remain clear of blockages. Cholesterol is a waxy substance and our bodies use it to make cell membranes and some hormones, but when you have too much bad cholesterol (LDL), it combines with white blood cells and forms plaque in your veins and arteries. These blockages lead to heart disease and stroke.
7. Eat better. A healthy diet is one of your best weapons for fighting cardiovascular disease. When you eat a heart-healthy diet (foods low in saturated and trans fat, cholesterol, sodium and added sugars, and foods high in whole grain fiber, lean protein, and a variety of colorful fruits and vegetables) you improve your chances for feeling good and staying healthy– for life!
These are just a few ways to start your healthy lifestyle. Again, it’s a lifestyle so you have to start making healthy choices a routine.
Click here to visit the American Heart Association’s website for more information on heart health.
Click here for The Simple 7 website.