Half a century ago, in response to the overwhelming number of American deaths caused annually by cardiovascular disease, then-President Lyndon B. Johnson signed into effect a document designating February American Heart Month.
The goals of this initiative were two fold: to raise general awareness of heart disease and to reduce individual risk factors through education.
In the fifty years since the first American Heart Month was observed, it’s safe to say the awareness campaign is working. Though heart disease remains the nation’s most serious health problem, the number of annual deaths attributable to this cause is lower in 2014 than in 1964 this despite the fact that the total population of the U.S. has increased by some 72 percent in that same period.
Part of the reason for this sharp decline is the multifaceted approach to prevention advocated by the American Heart Association. Along with behavioral adjustments such as quitting smoking, drinking alcohol only in moderation, and limiting external stressors, the AHA recommends the following lifestyle changes:
One cornerstone of prevention is a heart-healthy diet that is low in saturated fats and trans fats. Also known as “bad fats,” saturated and trans fats are found in foods like hamburgers, French fries, ice cream, potato chips, and donuts, and can lead to weight gain, high cholesterol, and clogged arteries.
Not all fats are bad, however. A heart-healthy diet should contain moderate amounts of monounsaturated fat and polyunsaturated fat, which are typically found in vegetable oils, nuts, fish, and seeds. These fats help lower cholesterol, provide essential nutrients, and reduce the risk of heart disease.
Physical activity in the form of moderate or vigorous exercise is another key element of overall heart health. Current AHA recommendations include 30 minutes of moderately intense aerobic activity at least 5 times per week (for a total of 150 minutes) or 25 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity at least 3 times per week (75 minutes in all).
The terms moderate and vigorous refer to how hard the heart works during the activity, and are therefore dependent on variables such as age and general fitness level. Online heart rate calculators and personal heart rate monitors can help individuals identify target heart rate zones for enhancing fat loss, aerobic endurance, or anaerobic performance.
Here at Push Pedal Pull, we believe American Heart Month is a great time to begin or renew your commitment to a healthier lifestyle that includes a heart-healthy diet and regular exercise. Use the Comments section below to tell us what positive changes you plan to make this month!