Taking Charge of Heart Health

— Written By Ashley McRae and last updated by
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Growing up, I knew my heart was abnormal because I was born with a hole in my heart, also known as a heart murmur. At least once per month, my parents would take me to have an electrocardiogram (EKG) done to measure my heart’s electrical activity. It wasn’t until adolescence that my doctors informed us the hole had closed on its own. Every now and then my heart has the tendency to flutter, which can be alarming; it is a nice reminder to remain calm, thus allowing my heart to find a steady rhythm. Furthermore, it keeps me accountable for maintaining a lifestyle that promotes positive heart health.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “in the United States, the most common type of heart disease is Coronary Artery Disease (CAD), which can lead to heart attack.” Added to this, individuals who have high cholesterol and high blood pressure stand a greater risk of developing heart complications. For some, knowing this information may be disheartening news; however, there are measures you can take to reduce the risk of developing heart disease. In the Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program (EFNEP), participants learn about the importance of incorporating more fruits and vegetables into their diets and how adding these to your diet has the potential to decrease the risk of chronic disease development.

In the Choosing More Fruits and Vegetables EFNEP lesson, adult participants have the opportunity to learn about vegetable and fruit preparation, safety, and how to guide their purchasing decisions. One idea educators use to promote vegetable and fruit consumption with participants is the “Eat the Rainbow” concept. Learners are able to identify the various colors, then learn how each is beneficial to the body. For example, eating more white, yellow, red, and purple fruits or vegetables has the capacity of promoting a healthy heart, lowering cholesterol, and decreasing blood pressure.

According to the American Heart Association, when shopping for groceries, you want to consider foods that have the “Heart Check” mark indicated on the packaging. These are foods that have been researched to ensure you are truly purchasing and consuming heart-healthy foods. Choose foods low in sodium and saturated fats, and be sure to purchase items high in fiber.

Additionally, increasing your physical activity can help in promoting heart health. This would include any activities that are moderate to vigorous, such as walking, gardening, yoga, jumping rope, or even line dancing. The CDC states that adults should do at least 150 minutes (2 hours and 30 minutes) of moderate-intensity physical activity or 75 minutes (1 hour and 15 minutes) of vigorous-intensity physical activity weekly to maintain an active lifestyle. EFNEP encourages participants to “Eat Smart, Move More.” During each EFNEP session, adult participants are taught several physical activity exercises that can be practiced at home as part of the Move More component.

So you see, it is possible to take charge of your heart health. It just takes individual effort, practicing healthier eating habits, and a willingness to not only commit but stick to a physical activity regime.

For more information, contact Ashley McRae, Extension Adult Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program Assistant, at 910-671-3276, by E-mail at Ashley_McRae@ncsu.edu, or visit our website.

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