Column: Tips to fight America’s No. 1 killer during Heart Health Month

By Tara Andrews

Heart disease is the number one killer of men and women in the United States. February is heart health month so it is a good time to evaluate how we are taking care of heart and reduce our risk of heart disease. When we follow the guidelines from the American Heart Association for reducing heart disease we get the added bonus that our brains benefit too!

About 20-25 percent of the blood pumped by your heart travels to your brain, so it is important to keep the heart working properly.

There is growing evidence that heart health is connected to brain health. In fact, heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes and high cholesterol can increase the risk of getting Alzheimer’s or dementia. Alzheimer’s is the leading cause of thinking and memory problems and memory loss in older adults.

So how do we reduce the risk of heart disease and improve our brain health?

The following lifestyle changes are recommended by the American Heart Association.

Keep your weight in a healthy range, it helps promote lower blood pressure, normal blood sugar and healthier cholesterol levels and triglycerides.

Eat better. A heart healthy eating plan includes colorful fruits and vegetables, whole grains, fish lean meats, legumes, nuts seeds, vegetable oil and low fat dairy products.

And there certainly is a place for Montana beef in healthy diet.

Concentrate on lean cuts such as round steak, rump roast, top ground steak, tip steak and roast, lean cubed steak, top loin steak, tenderloin, flank and sirloin steak and lean ground beef. It is also a good idea to broil or grill your beef rather than fry it.

Limit fatty and processed meats as well as sugar sweetened items and salt.

Be physically active. Get at least 150 minutes of moderate physical activity each week.

Control your cholesterol. Unhealthy cholesterol levels contribute to plague build-up in arteries which makes arteries narrower and stiff.

Avoid smoking.

Fiber can play an important role in lowering cholesterol, weight management and improving blood pressure. Soluble fiber binds to dietary cholesterol and eliminates it from the body therefore lowering cholesterol levels.

Foods that are high in fiber are also high in protective nutrients like antioxidants and phytosterols.

High fiber foods like fruits and vegetables are lower in calories and high in taste and nutrients. Dietary fiber promotes feelings of fullness in the stomach, signaling the brain to stop eating.

High fiber diets have also been associated with improved blood pressure. The bottom line is that research shows that a diet high in fiber reduces heart disease rates by 10 percent to 15 percent.

This is a good time to start taking care of your heart health for yourself and those that love you!

( Tara Andrews is a Custer County Extension agent.)