Heart of fruits and vegetablesOur hearts do so much — including keeping us alive — by circulating blood through the body. Our hearts hold things dear to us, and can get in shape when we exercise, just like the rest of our bodies. It’s only fitting that heart get an entire month of dedication in February for the American Heart Association (AHA) and Heart and Stroke Foundations of Canada`sHeart Month. Just like love, hearts shouldn’t be taken for granted, so with this month’s raised awareness — it`s time to take a minute and listen to your heart.

Heart disease is the number one killer in the United States and Canada, yet it is also the most preventable. Tune in and tune up with this heart health checklist:

  • Get a Physical: If you can’t remember the last time you’ve been to the doctor, you need to make an appointment now. Everyone should see their doctor at least once a year for a check-up. Your doctor will listen to your heart, check your blood pressure, and recommend the necessary preventative health screenings — like cholesterol and blood sugar — that are appropriate for your age and family history. Knowledge is power, but you need to go to know!
  • Eat More Plants: Increase your consumption of plant-based foods like fruits, vegetables, and whole grains for their health-promoting and free-radical fighting antioxidants while decreasing processed and packaged foods. The AHA recommends limiting the amount of red meat, and increasing plant-based protein options like beans and legumes.
  • Get Moving: Your health depends on it. According to the AHA, as little as 30 minutes of exercise a day can reduce your risk of heart disease, and for every hour you exercise – you can add 2 more hours to your life expectancy1.
  • Watch Your Fats: Get rid of trans fats completely, and reduce saturated fat consumption (fats that are solid at room temperature). Opt for healthier fats like monounsaturated fats found in olive oil, nuts, and avocadoes as well as polyunsaturated fats from safflower oil, seeds, and nuts. Also aim for a daily source of omega-3 fatty acids — found in chia seeds and flax seeds or oil.
  • Pass on the Salt: Be mindful of sodium — a main culprit in processed and packaged foods — that can contribute to high blood pressure, a heart disease risk factor. Instead, flavor foods with fresh herbs and spices; adding antioxidants instead of salt.
  • Take a Lifestyle Look: Aside from diet and exercise, a healthy heart also relies on a healthy lifestyle. Not smoking, limiting alcoholic beverages, and reducing stress all reduce heart disease risk.
  • Achieve a Healthy Weight: While a number on a scale is certainly subjective, carrying extra weight is a major risk factor for heart disease, especially if you carry your weight in your midsection. The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute explains even losing just 5% of your body weight can lower your risk for heart disease2.

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