If you are like me, you have some dietary and lifestyle behaviors that you just aren’t going to change. For example, I love fried chicken and I don’t like green tea. Kale fails to excite my salads nor can I stomach crossword puzzles.
Fortunately, I don’t have to follow ALL the latest health trends to keep my heart, lungs and brain healthy. According to the American Heart and Stroke Association, I can do this by using common sense and making an effort to incorporate healthy eating and exercise into my life.
Using a pamphlet I picked up at EvergreenHealth Heart & Vascular Care in Kirkland, Wash. called “Making Healthy Food and Lifestyle Choices: Our Guide for American Adults,” let’s explore some easy, smart ways to improve our health.
Four Steps toward Better Health
Here is the basic plan to improve health and reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, including heart disease (No. 1 killer) and stroke (No 4 killer):
- Eat a variety of nutritional foods from all food groups.
- Limit foods and beverages that are high in calories but low in nutrients.
- Use up at least as many calories as you take in.
- Don’t use tobacco products and avoid second-hand smoke.
Step 1: Eat a variety of foods
Guess what? Buttered popcorn and M&Ms don’t count as nutritious foods. What the heart & stroke folks suggest is that we eat lots of different healthy foods such as grains, veggies, fruits, fat-free dairy products, lean meat, poultry and seafood, liquid vegetable oil and soft margarine and very few sweets. The key is to eat a variety of foods because they all provide bits ‘n pieces of the nutrients our bodies need.
Serving size is important, too. Super-size needs to be flushed from our memories and replaced with modest proportions. For example, we don’t ever need to eat a 16-ounce steak. We don’t even need 8 ounces. Instead, the experts recommend we eat beef, chicken and fish helpings of about 3 oz. – that’s about the size of a computer mouse or a checkbook if we are talking fish.
Step 2: Eat Fewer Nutrient-Poor Foods
You know what these are – they are the foods we think we crave such as cake, cookies, salted chips, fast food, sugar soda. The idea is to back-off from these high-calorie, non-nutritious choices, read packaging and remove these temptations from our kitchens and pantries. In addition, the experts suggest we limit salt intake, drink alcohol in moderation and pay attention to what you eat when eating out.
Step 3: Burn Up the Calories You Eat
It’s basic math – the number of calories in must be equal to or less than the calories out. We all know this at some level but can easily rationalize eating a brownie that would take an athlete a 10K to burn. What we need to realize is that how many calories we can consume to maintain a healthy weight relates to our age, gender and level of physical activity. The scoop from Human Health & Services Dept.:
Adults should get at least two and a half hours (150 minutes) each week of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity. You need to do this type of activity for at least 10 minutes at a time as intervals shorter than this do not have the same health benefits. Adults should also do strengthening activities, like push-ups, sit-ups and lifting weights, at least two days a week.
Step 4: Avoid Tobacco Products
The pamphlet says there is no doubt – using tobacco and second-hand smoke increases your risk for bad stuff: heart disease, stroke, cancer and other major illnesses.
Try these practical suggestions:
- Keep track of when you crave a cigarette. Try to avoid those triggers.
- Discover what distracts you from smoking. Take a walk or wash your hands, call a friend – do whatever works to redirect your attention.
- Keep other things around to keep your mouth and hands busy. Try eating grapes, carrots, sunflower seeds, sugar-free chewing gum.
- Carry a pencil or paper clip to keep your hands busy.
- For more resources: visit heart.org
For more information:
Call 1-800-242-8721 or contact American Heart Association Puget Sound (http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/Affiliate/Seattle-Home-Page)
Or visit heart.org.
Also see 1-888-4-STROKE (1-888-478-7653) or strokeassociation.org