FEBRUARY IS American Heart Health and the American Heart Association wants Americans to be educated about the most important muscle and organ in their body ... the heart.
It's what keeps the blood pumping through your arteries and veins. While the brain is the bodies control center, without the previous oxygen circulated via pathways originating at the heart.
It's called a vital organ for a reason.
That's why it's important to not only know the current status of your heart's health but also take steps to improve upon it.
As complex as the heart is, keeping it pumping and running healthy can be boiled down to seven simple steps, seven stops in a plan of action that the AHA dubs its 'Simple 7."
1. Get Active
Cardiovascular activity can be as simple or as complicated as you want it to be. From aerobics and spinning classes to long-distance running, weight training and even walking, getting your body moving is as simple as walking out your front door and taking a stroll.
It really is that simple. All you need is the motivation. Yet, the AHA estimates that nearly 70 percent of Americans don't partake in the proper amount of physical activity they need.
It's recommended to participate in at least 30 minutes of moderate activity, five times per week. Any exercise is better than none. Start slowly, build from there.
2. Control Cholesterol
Low density lipoprotein, or LDL cholesterol for short, is what is coined bad cholesterol. And it's just that, bad.
High levels of LDLs in your system can lead to a buildup of plaque in your circulatory system, which can lead to heart disease and strokes.
A fully blocked artery can lead to a heart attack and even a partial blockage can increase blood pressure and force your heart to work overtime to keep the necessary amount of blood pumping throughout your body.
Keep track of your cholesterol levels, cut out the bad fats from your diet, increase your fiber intake. Exercise is also beneficial in controlling your cholesterol level.
3. Eat Better
Simply put, most Americans need to eat better.
The AHA estimates that an alarming 90 percent of U.S. residents fail to eat a truly heart-healthy diet.
But just what does a heart-healthy lineup of food consist of?
Lean meat, fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy products are all staples of a healthy diet. Foods rich in saturated fat and lacking in nutritional value are not.
4. Manage Blood Pressure
Hypertension, the medical term for high blood pressure, is no joke.
The heart has to work extra hard to push blood through its vessels, increasing pressure on arteries and veins. This can injure the circulatory system. The good news is these small tears can be fixed by the body's defense system. The bad news? These 'repairs' are great at trapping plaque in the blood stream and are the building blocks for blockage.
A healthy diet, regular exercise and managing your stress levels are all easy methods at reducing blood pressure.
5. Lose Weight
The overwhelming majority of obese people are so because of two contributing factors: A poor diet and lack of exercise. Poor diets usually consist of high-fat content foods which increase blood pressure and plaque buildup in the body. Carrying around increased weight also places strain on the body, both physically and mentally in terms of stress.
There are many varying techniques and studies surrounding weight loss, along with a multitude of fad diets, lifestyle-change plans and other assorted ideas. Some of these are free; some are not. It boils down to a simple premise ... burn off more than you take in.
Losing weight goes a long way to building a stronger, happier, healthier you.
6. Reduce Blood Sugar
Consistent high levels of blood sugar can lead to diabetes.
Diabetes, left untreated or unmanaged, can lead to damage done to your heart, eyes, kidneys and other organs.
The AHA considers Diabetes one of the six major controllable factors in staving off heart disease.
Keeping your sugar levels low can be accomplished through limiting or eliminating the amount of simple sugars in the body, i.e. soda, desserts and candy.
Exercise is also key. Medication may be necessary, but even if that's the case, don't give up the fight against high sugar levels.
7. Stop Smoking
Clots, hardened arteries, aneurysm and circulatory damage ... none of these are pleasant or high on people's must-have lists.
However, smoking is a major contributing factor in all of them. Smoking also decreased your ability to partake in cardiovascular activity because of the effects it has on your lungs. You get winded easier. The sooner you get winded the more likely you will be to cut short or give up completely on exercise.
Heart health is important. The steps to keep it healthy are equally as simple in scope. It's all a matter of motivation.
Hughes may be reached at email@example.com