Thursday, February 13, 2014

February is Heart Health Month: Seven Steps to Improve Your Heart Health

Contact: Cammie Younger, nutrition and health specialist
Headquartered in Texas County
Tel: (417) 967-4545 

HOUSTON, Mo. -- Valentine’s Day is not the only thing to be celebrating in the month of February. Another topic for celebration is heart health according to University of Missouri Extension Nutrition and Health Education Specialist Cammie Younger.

“February is heart health awareness month in the US,” said Younger. “It is a time for citizens to reflect on healthy heart habits to create a better knowledge base in accessing and improving heart health in the month of February.”

The American Heart Association has developed “Life’s Simple 7” which are seven basic steps a person can take to improve heart health and to live better.

1. Get active: Thirty minutes of daily moderate exercise can reduce your risk of heart disease. Aerobic activity benefits your heart and lowers blood pressure, raises good HDL cholesterol, helps manage stress, controls blood sugar, helps control weight and enhances self-esteem. “Walking is a great way to improve heart health and it’s free, easy and almost anyone can do it. Remember to include weekly strength training, flexibility and balance exercises,” said Younger.

2. Control cholesterol: Total cholesterol should be below 200 mg/dL. Cholesterol can build up in the arteries increasing the risk factors for heart attack and stroke. “The cholesterol, saturated fat and trans fat that you eat increases your cholesterol, as well as the amount the body makes naturally,” said Younger.

3. Eat better: A diet that includes a wide variety of fruits and vegetables is a great start to a healthier body. The American Heart Association also recommends eating fish twice a week — oily fish like salmon and mackerel contain omega 3 fatty acids, which may help reduce blood clotting in the arteries and protect from hardening of the arteries. For heart health, limit saturated and trans fats, and choose and prepare foods with little or no salt.

4. Manage blood pressure: One of every three adults has high blood pressure and many don’t even know it. High blood pressure is the single most significant risk factor for heart disease. The goal is to have your blood pressure be less than 120 over 80. “When your blood pressure is in the healthy range, your heart doesn’t have to work as hard to pump the blood through the arteries, the arteries are elastic and free of injury or being overstretched, and all your body tissues receive the nutrients they need from a proper flow of blood,” said Younger.

5. Lose weight: Too much fat, especially around the waist, puts a person at a higher risk for high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes. “Simply losing that weight helps decrease your risk,” said Younger.

6. Reduce blood sugar: Diabetes is a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease. By keeping blood sugar levels in the healthy range and preventing diabetes, a person can control the risk for heart disease. “Those who have diabetes can control their blood sugar in order to slow or reduce the risk of long-term complications, like heart disease,” said Younger.

7. Stop smoking: Smokers have a higher risk of many health conditions, including heart disease, stroke and heart attacks.

“These steps may seem like a big task to tackle, but remember small changes can make a big difference in heart health and small changes will lead to big changes overall,” said Younger. “Start small and stay consistent and before long new healthier habits are formed and your risk for heart disease is much lower.”

For more information on nutrition, go online to or contact one of the nutrition and health specialists working in the Ozarks: Dr. Lydia Kaume in Barton County, (417) 682-3579; Dr. Pam Duitsman, in Greene County, (417) 881-8909; or Cammie Younger in Texas County, (417) 967-4545

For 100 years, MU Extension has engaged Missourians in relevant programs based on University of Missouri research. The year 2014 marks the centennial of the Smith-Lever Act, which formalized the Cooperative Agricultural Extension Service, a national network whose purpose is to extend university-based knowledge beyond the campus.

University of Missouri Extension programs focus on the high-priority needs of Missourians. Each county extension center, with oversight by locally elected and appointed citizens, is your local link to practical education on almost anything. More information on this topic is available online at


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