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NEWS | Feb. 2, 2011

Honor your heart during National Heart Month

By Greer Gowen, dietitian HAWC

It is February, which usually brings on thoughts of chocolate hearts, flowers, cupids and cards, but this month is also a time to honor our hearts and to educate ourselves about what we can do to lead heart-healthy lives. Heart disease, which includes high blood pressure, high cholesterol and stroke, is the leading cause of death for both men and women. Women over the age of 55, men over the age of 45, and anyone with a family history of heart disease are at risk for developing heart disease.

Keep heart disease away with these heart-healthy tips:

1. Watch your weight. If your weight has steadily been creeping up over the years, today is the day to make a pledge to eat a healthy balanced diet that includes a variety of fruits and vegetables. Aim for 30 minutes of daily physical activity to keep your heart pumping strong. The HAWC has nutrition classes for high blood pressure and high cholesterol every 4th Tuesday of the month.

2. Stop smoking and stay away from second hand smoke. Tobacco use is the leading cause of preventable death. According to the Center for Disease Control, tobacco use is responsible for one in five deaths each year. Contact the HAWC to find out how you can kick the habit and begin breathing fresh air.

3. Control your cholesterol and blood pressure. Obesity, stress, lack of physical activity, smoking and a diet high in fat and sodium often results in elevated cholesterol and blood pressure. Hypertension and high cholesterol, known as silent killers, are often symptomless. Make an appointment with your physician for a simple blood cholesterol test and blood pressure check.

4. Drink alcohol in moderation. Males should limit their drinks to one to two per day and females should limit their drinks to one per day.

5. Manage stress. Stress can take a toll on your physical health as well as bring you down emotionally. The American Heart Association recommends talking to yourself in a positive way such as "I'll do the best I can" when confronted with any stressors. Find activities that make you happy and fully engage in them. Daily meditation, yoga and deep breathing exercises can also help you relax. If you want more information on how to manage stress, attend the Stress Class every 2nd Wednesday of the month from 3:30 to 4:30 p.m. at the HAWC.

Finally, show your support and raise awareness about women and heart disease by wearing red on National Wear Red Day, Feb. 4. Visit for more information.

Lastly, give yourself and your heart some love and appreciation this Valentine's Day by savoring a piece of dark chocolate, which is full of antioxidants and has been shown to lower blood pressure. But don't forget it is not calorie free so a small piece will give you and your heart some healthful benefits.