Are you living heart smart?

Are you living heart smart?

  • Updated
Tara Dunker

Tara Dunker

Ready or not, Valentine’s Day is tomorrow.

Maybe you’re a person who never forgets a birthday or special holiday, leaving the lucky people in your orbit always feeling the love.

Have you shown yourself that same level of care lately?

In honor of American Heart Month, try turning your attention inward. Cardiovascular disease refers to a number of conditions, all of which involve compromised blood flow, putting a person at risk of stroke, heart attack and heart failure. That’s the bad news.

Here’s the good news. More often than not, these conditions can be prevented by becoming informed and using that information to make healthy decisions—living heart smart.

Know the risks

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, risky conditions and behaviors are being seen at younger ages. These include:

High blood pressure: Having uncontrolled high blood pressure is one of the biggest risk factors for cardiovascular disease.

Unhealthy blood cholesterol levels: Some factors that contribute to unhealthy cholesterol levels are diabetes, obesity, smoking, physical inactivity and an unhealthy eating pattern.

Smoking: Smoking damages the blood vessels and can lead to a range of conditions.

Get (and stay) heart smart

Now that you know the risks, here are some helpful hints to start you on your journey to becoming heart smart.

Talk to your doctor: As mentioned before, becoming informed is the first step. The only way to know if you have consistently high blood pressure or blood cholesterol levels outside the healthy range is to have these tested by a qualified health professional who can help you understand your readings.

Make healthy eating pattern shifts: Aim to adopt an eating pattern high in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean sources of protein, fat-free or low-fat dairy products and healthy oils. Make a habit of reading food labels to start understanding where you may be getting extra sodium (salt), added sugars and saturated (solid) fats—all of which you’ll want to cut back on for the sake of your heart.

Be physically active: Research shows physical activity is a key component in preventing cardiovascular disease and contributes greatly to weight control over the lifespan. Aim for around 30 minutes most days of the week, and remember to choose activities you enjoy. The more you enjoy it, the more you’ll stick with it.

Don’t smoke: Waste no time quitting smoking. Research shows within a few years of quitting, your risk of stroke and other smoking-related cardiovascular diseases will look more like that of non-smokers.

It’s never too late to start making shifts toward a healthier lifestyle. Sometimes you’ll find the shift needed is a rather small one, while other shifts may feel like big sacrifices.

When the sacrifice feels too great, try adjusting your focus to all the positive things gained by getting (and staying) heart smart—feeling good in your own skin, peace of mind, physical independence, and more time doing the things you love and being with the ones you love.

Who can put a price on that?

The content of this article is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

If you have any further questions, please contact Tara Dunker at 402-223-1384,, or visit the Gage County Extension website at


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