Published on 02/01/18

UGA Extension agent offers heart-healthy tips for American Heart Month

By Keishon Thomas

February has arrived. Cue the hearts, flowers and Valentine’s Day festivities. While we have love on the brain, I would like to challenge you to change your perception of love by caring for your heart. February is American Heart Month.

Noncontrollable factors, like having a family history of heart disease, being of African-American descent, and growing older or postmenopausal, can contribute to cardiovascular disease (CVD). 

The good news is that most chronic diseases, including CVD, are caused by modifiable behaviors. The three most common risk behaviors for CVD are lack of physical activity, poor nutrition and inadequate weight management.

University of Georgia Cooperative Extension encourages you to love yourself by making changes to decrease your risk for heart disease.

Change your diet. Most of us do not get the appropriate number of servings of fruit and vegetables every day. A small change, like ensuring that you have a serving of fruit or vegetables at every meal, can do wonders for your heart.

Fruits and vegetables are high in fiber and low in calories, which aids in weight management. Try incorporating a variety of vegetables and fruits into your diet, like kale, asparagus, blueberries and cherries. I have found that drinking fruit and vegetable smoothies also increases fruit and vegetable intake.   

Spice it up. Food preparation is just as important as the food itself. Reducing the amount of sodium in foods is essential to good heart health. We may be a society of foodies, and no one likes bland food, but there are ways to make foods taste great without adding sodium.

Spices and herbs add flavor without adding extra fat and calories. If you’re aiming for an Italian-inspired meal, for instance, try using garlic powder, thyme, oregano and basil. Switching from garlic and onion salts to garlic and onion powders is a small step that could bring big returns.  

Make the effort. Physical activity takes effort on our part. Again, small changes can make huge differences.

Walking is a cost-effective, easy way to get moving. Walk the entire grocery store, to the mailbox or to the corner.

I took my own advice and began walking. I am ashamed to say that, at first, it was rather difficult. I could not walk around the block. Yikes! I kept at it and now I can walk around the block twice. I had to build up to it. I started with a small goal of walking to the end of my block. I added a pedometer app to my phone that lets me know the number of steps I take daily. It serves as a reminder to get up and get moving. My family also joined in and my children and my husband join me on my evening walks.

Consider these Extension tips and make heart health a priority this Valentine’s Day.

Keishon Thomas is the University of Georgia Extension family and consumer sciences agent in Bibb County.

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