As a result of the declining economy, Americans are cutting back on healthy activities such as eating fresh foods and exercising regularly, according to a recent survey conducted by the American Heart Association (AHA). “We’ve made dramatic gains in recent years in our fight against heart disease and stroke, but trends like these threaten to reverse these gains,” says Timothy Gardner, M.D., president of the AHA. “Even in hard times, health is important.”
To help you stay heart-healthy during these stressful times, here are some tips from the AHA:
DO: Walk to stay physically active. “Physical activity is an easy, inexpensive way for people to prevent heart disease and manage their stress,” Gardner says. What’s the easiest way to get your exercise in? Walk. The AHA cites walking as the most accessible form of physical activity with the lowest drop-out rate among Americans. “Make sure you are getting at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity each week,” Gardner adds
TIP: Visit www.startwalkingnow.org to download a free personal walking plan, track your physical activity online or find a walking buddy in your area.
DON'T: Consume foods or drinks that are high in sodium. A recent study by Education and Supportive Partners Improving Self Care (ENSPIRE) found that heart failure patients who attempted to reduce their sodium intake were unable to adhere to the low-sodium diet. The researchers faulted the patients’ frequent intake of foods with “hidden salt,” such as fast food, lunch meat, bread and pizza.
TIP: To open your eyes to just how much sodium you are consuming, keep a diary of the foods you eat for a week and calculate your nutritional intake. See Sodium Stats (below right) for more info on appropriate sodium amounts for your diet.
DO: Trim down your waist size. In women, a higher waist size at all levels of body mass index (BMI) has been associated with heart failure in recent studies. In men, both waist size and BMI were heart-failure predictors.
TIP: Follow this simple equation for a healthy waist size (if your waist measurement is a larger number, you need to lose some belly fat): # of inches around your belly (at the belly button) = ½ of your height (in inches)
Sea Salt vs. Table Salt
A popular cooking craze, the use of sea salt in foods provides a slightly different flavor and texture than table salt, but has the same nutritional value—that’s right, sea salt contains the same amount of sodium as table salt. It’s not healthier because it’s still salt. The difference between the two salts comes in the harvesting process, and table salt often contains added iodine.
—Marisa Moore, R.D., L.D., registered dietician, Atlanta-based spokesperson, American Dietetic Association, www.eatright.org
An excess of sodium in your diet is a major cause of heart disease. While most should aim to eat less than 2,300 milligrams of sodium (1 teaspoon of salt) per day, African-Americans, middle-aged and older adults and people with high blood pressure need less than 1,500 milligrams per day (less than 2/3 teaspoon of salt, or less than 1 1/2 teaspoons of baking soda). Read your food labels! Most labels indicate the number of milligrams of sodium per serving, so you can keep track of your sodium intake.
—American Heart Association, www.americanheart.org