It’s almost over and in case you weren’t aware February is American Heart Month (Heart Health Awareness). The idea behind the moniker is to remind everyone once a year of the steps necessary to insure heart health for the remaining months. Most Americans are unaware that heart disease is the number one killer in the nation year in and year out or the quickest ways to reduce their risk of becoming a statistic.
The CDC has reported on 7 essential steps to heart health yet a mere 1.2% of American adults adhere to the guidelines.
So, in honor of Heart Health Month lets review the 7 steps.
1. No smoking/tobacco. Hard to believe that anyone has to be reminded of this fact but approximately 1 in 5 adults in America still use tobacco in some form. In fact its use is THE LEADING CAUSE OF PREVENTABLE DEATH.
2. Staying in Motion: This step is rated now just as highly as step #1: take more steps. Sitting has been equated with smoking as to its negative impact on health. This of course is a challenge for most Americans. We average less that 1.2 the minimum recommended amount of walking per day set by the Surgeon General and these standards are woefully low to begin with. The minimum amount recommended is only 10,000 steps per day and at an average walking speed of 3 miles per hour that can be achieved in about 1 hour and 45 minutes. Studies are now showing that it is imperative not to sit longer than 20 minutes without some type of movement break.
3. Maintaining healthy blood glucose levels. Translation: cut sugar out of your diet as much as possible and any other high glycemic carbohydrate. That means stick to fresh vegetables, fruits (not juice0 and whole grains.
4. Maintaining healthy cholesterol levels. Recent research has shown that perhaps too much focus has been errantly served on this topic and that glucose levels and sugar avoidance should be a much higher priority. That does not mean we should rush out and return the can of bacon grease to the stove-top.
5. Maintain a Healthy Body Weight. This step not only confuses but frustrates more Americans than any single recommendation and has fueled a multi-billion dollar diet industry that has failed their followers for decades. There is evidence that overweight people can be metabolically healthy, that’s the good news. The bad news is that this reprieve is short lived at best and excess pounds eventually cause damage to one’s health. 70% of American adults are overweight yet only a small percentage of this population even realize it. They have shut off to the recommended BMI (body mass index) measures so often cited. We believe a more realistic and positive metric is the waist to height ratio which calls for a number below 50%. This means that if you are 6 feet tall your waist should not be more than 36 inches (72″ divided by 2 = 36″). Most 6 feet tall players in the NFL would be classified as obese by the BMI measures.
6. Follow a healthy and balanced diet within normal caloric guidelines. Believe it or not this does not mean diet or starvation. Though the CDC does not suggest skipping a meal here and there, we strongly believe that it can help keep the weight off at the very least. Recent studies have shown that certain foods can keep hunger pangs at bay. We have a few favorites. One is a blended smoothie made from a banana, a granny smith apple and a few handfuls of spinach. The apple and spinach contain substances that trick your brain into feeling nourished and the banana just combines well for a wonderful taste as well. Replacing a lunch with a snack of walnuts or almonds on occasion is a great way to cut some calories as well without going hungry.
7. Control High Blood Pressure. Watch the salt intake and get and work in a little cardio workout into your day when you can. Take the stairs rather than the elevator. Do some squats, jumping jacks and push ups while watching television instead of just sitting the whole time – do anything to keep moving as much as possible.
Staying in motion during the day helps with all seven suggested steps to heart health, so make that a priority. A great way to keep track of your activity (or lack thereof) is with a FitBit.
We believe two more suggestions should be added to the list.
Limit Inactivity to 20 Minute Intervals. A lot of truly health damaging processes start within the body when it is sedentary for more than 20 minutes. Even a short five minute stretch and walk in place can negate these processes.
Take Control of Your Genes and TCells: This may sound odd but your body is listening to you. If you remain sedentary it interprets that you might be injured or in a situation which requires caloric management – meaning your body will produce more fat cells to fit your lifestyle. Some studies have shown that as much as 50% more fat cells will be called into reserve if you spend most of the day sitting. You can break this cycle by staying in motion and sending signals to your body to produce muscle cells rather than contribute to an every growing stockpile of adipose tissue. This will have the added benefit of increasing metabolism, energy levels and most important -heart health.