February is American Heart Month, a month dedicated to learning about the ways to live heart healthy lives. Heart disease is the leading cause of death for men and women – one in every four deaths is attributed to heart disease in the United States. About 610,000 die each year from heart disease.

In this article, we talk about the steps you can take to prevent heart disease.

As you read through the advice below, keep in mind that it can take time to change your habits. Family Medicine clinician, Dr. Rani Whitfield, told the AHA that it can take two to three months for new habits to start to feel normal and not like a chore. “You have to keep after it,” the article says. “If you forget sometimes, or if at first you don’t figure how to make it work…keep after it.”

Be patient and persistent as you work on making these changes in your life!

Heart-Healthy Life

Move more

Here at Performance Physical Therapy, we have a saying: movement in medicine. Exercising is one of the best ways to strengthen your body, and it helps guard against a number of problems: heart disease, stroke, obesity, and more.

The AHA suggests that you slowly work up to doing at least 150 minutes of moderate physical activity (like fast walking) each week. That means that eventually, you’d be doing moderate physical activity for 30 minutes, five days a week. If you have less time to spare, you can try for 75 minutes of vigorous physical activity (like jogging) each week — but make sure not to do too much too fast. Either way, at least two days a week, you should do muscle-strengthening exercises.

Kids should always get at least 60 minutes of activity a day.

In January, physical therapist Dr. Rob Gruttadauria offered a suggested workout schedule that’s perfect for people new to exercising, or for those who have taken a long break from it. Organizations like the AHA and American Physical Therapy Association have a ton of ideas as well: including ideas like this, this and this.

Don’t forget to keep an eye on your heart rate so you know when to back off or step it up!

Eat well

Moving won’t save you from heart disease if you eat poorly every day. A healthy diet is an integral part of heart health.

The Mayo Clinic suggests the following general guidelines in the table below, and you can also see some suggested heart-healthy recipes on the Go Red For Women website.

  Things to Eat Things to Avoid
Eat More Fruits and Veggies
  • Fresh/frozen veggies and fruits
  • Low-sodium canned veggies
  • Canned fruit packed in juice or water
  • Coconut
  • Vegetables with creamy sauces
  • Fried or breaded vegetables
  • Canned fruit packed in heavy syrup
  • Frozen fruit with sugar added
Choose Whole Grains
  • Whole-wheat flour, whole-grain bread and pasta
  • Oatmeal and cereal with 5g or more of fiber in a serving
  • Brown rice, barley, buckwheat
  • White, refined flour & white bread
  • Muffins, cakes, pies and donuts
  • Frozen waffles
  • Corn bread, biscuits and quick breads
  • Egg noodles
  • Buttered popcorn, high-fat snack cracker
Limit Unhealthy Fats
  • Olive, canola, vegetable and nut oils
  • Trans-fat-free margarine
  • Cholesterol-lowering margarine
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Avocados
  • Butter, lard, bacon fat, hydrogenated margarine and shortening
  • Gravy, cream sauce
  • Nondairy creamers
  • Cocoa butter, found in chocolate
  • Coconut, palm, cottonseed and palm-kernel oils
Choose low-fat proteins
  • Skim or 1% milk, low-fat yogurt or cheese
  • Eggs
  • Fish (like salmon or other cold-water fish)
  • Skinless poultry & lean ground meats
  • Legumes
  • Soybeans & tofu
  • Full-fat milk and other dairy products
  • Organ meats, such as liver
  • Fatty and marbled meats
  • Spareribs, hot dogs, sausages and bacon
  • Fried or breaded meats
Reduce Sodium
  • Herbs and spices
  • Salt substitutes
  • Reduced-salt canned soups or prepared meals
  • Reduced-salt versions of condiments
  • Table salt
  • Canned soups and prepared foods, such as frozen dinners
  • Tomato juice
  • Soy sauce

Stop smoking

The AHA notes the following about how smoking damages your heart:

  • Nicotine makes your heart rate and blood pressure skyrocket.
  • Carbon monoxide and tobacco rob your heart, brain and arteries of oxygen.
  • It damages your blood vessels and makes your blood sticky – a recipe for blood clots.
  • It lowers your tolerance for physical activity and decreases HDL (good) cholesterol.
  • If you take oral contraceptives it increases your blood pressure and risk for stroke and heart attack.

The American Heart Association has resources on how to quit smokingfrequently asked questions