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updated: 1/28/2014 4:46 PM

Take 1 step at a time toward healthier heart

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Lake County Health Department

American Heart Month in February is an ideal time to focus on heart health. Whether it is putting down the salt shaker or parking farther away from your office door, making one small change a week can help you be on your way to a healthier heart.

"Heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women, but heart disease is preventable and controllable," said Tony Beltran, Executive Director for the Lake County Health Department/Community Health Center. "Taking small steps every day can bring us closer to heart health."

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In recognition of American Heart Month, the Health Department offers some tips on how to improve your heart health one step at a time.

• Keep your sodium intake to no more than 2,300 milligrams, or one teaspoon a day. This includes not only the salt you add to your food, but also the salt already found in the foods you eat. Check the package labels for sodium levels. Even less salt, or about 1,500 milligrams, should be consumed each day by those who are 51 years of age or older, African American, or individuals with high blood pressure, diabetes, or kidney disease.

• Have your healthcare provider check your cholesterol levels at least once every five years. Those with high cholesterol levels have twice the risk of heart disease as those with lower cholesterol levels. The desirable level of total cholesterol is 200 mg/dL. Your LDL "bad" cholesterol level should be less than 100 mg/dL and your HDL "good" cholesterol should be 40 mg/dL or higher. Your Triglyceride level should be less than 150 mg/dL.

• Exercise. Adults, 18 to 64 years of age, need at least 2 hours and 30 minutes of moderate intensity aerobic exercise (i.e. a brisk walk) each week and two days a week of strengthening the major muscle groups (legs, hips, back, chest, abdomen, shoulders and arms). This may sound like a lot, but the aerobic exercise can be done in increments of 10 minutes throughout the week. Strengthening can be done by doing sit ups, push-ups, using resistance bands, yoga, heavy gardening or lifting weights.

• Do not smoke and limit alcohol consumption. Smoking restricts the flow of blood and oxygen to the heart and alcohol raises your blood pressure. Men should have no more than two drinks a day and women should limit themselves to one a day. A standard measure for one drink is 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine, and 1.5 ounces of 80 proof liquor, such as rum, vodka, gin or whiskey.

• If you have diabetes, manage blood sugar levels closely and consult with your health care provider about treatment options.

• Monitor and control your blood pressure. A blood pressure reading has two numbers with the first number being the pressure in your arteries when your heart beats and the second number being artery pressure when the heart is at rest between beats. A normal blood pressure reading should be below "120 over 80." High blood pressure raises your risk of heart disease and stroke. Often called the "silent killer," high blood pressure often has no warning signs or symptoms.

• Eat a healthy diet low in saturated fat, cholesterol and trans fat, but high in fiber. Consume at least five servings of fruits and vegetables a day. That is about 2 cups of fruits and 2.5 to 3 cups of vegetables for an adult each day. When eating a meal, fill half of your plate with fruits and vegetables.

• Maintain a healthy weight. One way to determine if you are at a healthy weight is plugging your height and weight numbers into the body mass index. Use this calculator http://www.cdc.gov/healthyweight/assessing/bmi/adult_bmi/english_bmi_calculator/bmi_calculator.html. An adult with a body mass index of 18.5 to 24.9 is within the normal or healthy weight range. Also, a waistline circumference of 35 inches or more for a woman and 40 inches or more for a man indicates a higher risk of developing obesity-related health problems.

Do not get discouraged. Take just one step at a time and ask friends and family to join you as you move toward a healthier heart. For more information about healthy eating, go to the Lake County Health Department's website, health.lakecountyil.gov, or check out the Centers for Disease Control's Million Hearts initiative at millionhearts.hhs.gov.

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