February is about getting to the heart of the matter

Pottstown YMCA wellness director Jennifer Gaj does a blood pressure screening on Y member Eric Scatchard. Many agree that exercise can help you stay healthy. The store shelves full of stuffed teddy bears, chocolates and flowers on display this week probably gave people the hint that Thursday was Valentines Day. February tends to be the month associated with love and the color of red but it’s also the month that brings attention to the heart, literally.

February is American Heart Month. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is using the health-conscious period to talk about cholesterol, specifically high blood cholesterol. High density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol is often referred to as the good cholesterol while low density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol is known as the bad cholesterol.

“Cholesterol is a fat (also called a lipid) that your body needs to work properly. Too much bad cholesterol can increase your chance of getting heart disease, stroke and other problems,” stated the U.S. National Library of Medicine.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, almost one out every three adults in the U.S. has high blood cholesterol. Some people may not be aware they have the disorder because there often aren’t any signs or symptoms. High blood cholesterol can be prevented or controlled with healthy lifestyle choices. Below is a list of ways to help lower bad cholesterol and increase good cholesterol which will help prevent chronic disease. 1. Choose foods low in saturated fat

Foods that are high in saturated fat tend to also be high in cholesterol. Saturated fats should only make up a very small portion of your daily calories. About 120 calories should come from saturated fats for a 2,000 calorie a day diet according to the American Heart Association. Saturated fats are mainly in meat and dairy foods. Items that tend to contain a lot of saturated fat include fatty beef, pork, butter and cheese. Decreasing the amount of red meat and sugar-filled foods you eat will help to limit the amount of saturated fat in your diet. It’s best to add lean meats such as chicken without the skin and turkey to your daily menu. For more about saturated fats, visit www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/healthy-eating/eat-smart/fats/saturated-fats . 2. Add more fiber to your plate

Fiber can help lower bad cholesterol levels and it also reduces the risk of obesity, heart disease and diabetes. It’s suggested that women eat 21 to 25 grams of fiber a day while men should eat 30 to 38 grams of fiber each day, according to the Mayo Clinic. Vegetables such as green peas, broccoli and Brussels sprouts are good sources of fiber. Raspberries have 8 grams of fiber per each 1 cup serving. One medium apple with the skin has 4.5 grams of fiber. Whole-wheat products and grains are another good source of fiber such as spaghetti, oatmeal and quinoa. Some of the most-high fiber foods are legumes, nuts and seeds. This includes black beans, chia seeds and lentils. For more about foods with fiber, visit www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/high-fiber-foods/art-20050948 . 3. Consume less sodium

Salt doesn’t contain fat, so it doesn’t directly impact cholesterol but foods higher in sodium tend to also be higher in saturated fats. Reducing your sodium intake can also help lower the risk of high blood pressure, heart disease and stroke. The majority of Americans’ sodium intake doesn’t come from the salt shaker but from processed foods or foods prepared in a restaurant, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The top foods with lots of sodium include pizza, sandwiches, soups, cheeses and breads. Pre-packaged food can contain a very high sodium content. To avoid items already equipped with a lot of sodium, try eating fresh foods whenever possible such as fruits and veggies. When it comes to meat, it’s best to buy fresh lean meats as opposed to items that are cured, salted or smoked. For more about sodium, visit www.cdc.gov/salt/food.htm . 4. Get Moving

Regular physical activity can help lower your cholesterol. It can also reduce the risk of high blood pressure and obesity. It’s recommended that adults get at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise each week. Children need 1 hour of exercise every day. Physical activity does more than help reduce the risk of chronic diseases. It also promotes overall health and well-being. Exercise can improve sleep and mental health. Moderate physical activities include walking briskly, dancing, bicycling, canoeing and water aerobics, according to ChooseMyPlate.gov . For tips on how to make physical activity a part of your regular schedule, visit www.choosemyplate.gov/physical-activity-tips .

It comes down to making smarter food choices and adding activity to your routine in order to maintain good health. High blood cholesterol and blood pressure are hard to detect without going to a doctor. It’s important to get regular checkups to stay informed about your blood and pressure levels. For more about American Heart Month, visit www.cdc.gov/heartdisease/american_heart_month.htm

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