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updated: 1/30/2013 8:58 PM

February is American Heart Health Month

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Laura Barr, University of Illinois Extension

The month of February centers on the heart. As Valentine's Day approaches, our thoughts are filled with visions of chocolates, flowers and special meals. Warm drinks, cozy fires and time with family and friends bring comfort to the soul. Alternatively, the care of our physical heart is every bit as important says Laura Barr, Extension Educator, Nutrition and Wellness of the University of Illinois Extension.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that cardiovascular disease (CVD) is the primary cause of death in the United States; one in every three deaths is a result of heart disease and stroke, which results in 2,200 deaths per day. These illnesses are leading causes of disability which decreases work productivity and stifles recreational activities. CVD also carries a high price--heart disease and stroke hospitalizations in 2010 cost more than $444 billion dollars for health care expenses and lost production. Heart health is a quality of life issue and it is important to be proactive about caring for our heart.

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The top lifestyle risk factors for CVD are smoking, sedentary lifestyle and high dietary intake of saturated fats and sodium. Individuals have control over habits, but making positive changes are never easy. It takes determination and a plan to make and sustain certain change. It is best to work on one or two habits at a time. Too many changes at one time may lead to frustration and the possibility of giving up all together. If you smoke, get help to quit. This one habit alone can make or break your present and future quality of life. Try to be physically active for at least 30 minutes most days of the week. Find a sport, facility or person that motivates active life styles for support. Learn about healthy eating through credible sources such as universities, professional networks or government agencies. Internet resources or advertisements may have messages that have not been proven scientifically, and are bias in their claims.

Find a medical group you trust and where you feel comfortable to establish a wellness file. An annual exam is a great way to prevent disease and illness. Have your physician review a healthy weight range, and see if you fall in those parameters. The best way to maintain a healthy weight is to be more physically active. It results in improved physical fitness, concentration and mood. Plus, a stronger body! This is a win-win situation for sure. The numbers below measure the state of health of our physical bodies. Your ideal weight should fall into a certain range determined by your height.

• Blood pressure should be less than 120/80 mmHG.

• Total cholesterol should be less than 200 mg/dL.

• LDL cholesterol should be less than 100 mg/dL

• HDL cholesterol should be greater than 40 mg/dL.

• Triglycerides should range from 150-199 mg/dL.

• Fasting Glucose should range from 70-99 mg/dL.

Discover health improvements, as you move towards a diet high in vegetables and fruit and low in sodium, sugar and saturated fats. Saturated fats tend to be solid at room temperature, and are mostly found in animal food products.

Find out if you have high blood pressure or cholesterol, and if you do, seek effective treatment. Get screened for pre-diabetes, especially if you are overweight. Practice control of your heart health by following your doctor's prescription instructions. Medical costs will stay lower if we are proactive, and will prevent big problems by taking care of our bodies.

Let's start today by finding preventative medical care with a trusted physician, establish one or two health goals, and find a support system to reap the health benefits.

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