Health and Fitness: Making heart-healthy a way of life

Several nights ago, I was lying in bed when I became unusually aware of my heartbeat. I thought about how this lone organ, responsible for keeping me alive, pulsed under my fingertips.

That’s when it hit me how important it is to take care of our hearts. Just like we emotionally protect them from being broken, we must also shield them in a physical sense.

Regular exercise can cut your risk of heart disease by 50 percent. If that isn’t enough to get your butt off the couch, I don’t know what else will.

According to the National Institute of Health, fitness during young-adult life significantly lowers the chance of developing high blood pressure and diabetes in middle age.

Not only that, but fitness reduces the risk for things like excess abdominal fat, elevated blood pressure and low levels of “good” cholesterol — all things that increase your risk of heart disease.

So what’s the difference between “good” and “bad” cholesterol?

According to Health Services at Columbia University, cholesterol is a necessary part of living cells. One type of cholesterol — high-density lipoproteins (HDL) — lowers the risk of heart disease, while the other — low-density lipoproteins (LDL) — increases it.

Protein-encased cholesterol travels through the blood stream and is absorbed by cells and used for essential purposes. Both types of cholesterol contribute to the formation of deposits of fatty film on artery walls.

In short, HDL helps prevent build-up, and LDL contributes to it. Over time, this plaque build-up will become hardened, obstructing blood flow and increasing the risk of heart attack.

Here are some steps you can take to improve your heart health:

– Don’t smoke.

– Control stress.

– Maintain a healthy weight.

– Engage in regular physical activity.

Eat fruits and vegetables (at least 4.5 cups a day), fish (about 2 servings a week), fiber-rich whole grains (at least 3 servings a day) and nuts, legumes and seeds (at least 4 servings a week).

Avoid unsaturated fats, sodium (no more than 1,500 mg a day), processed meats (no more than 2 servings a week), saturated fat (less than 7 percent of total energy intake) and sugar-sweetened beverages (no more than 450 calories a week).

Don’t overdo, but consume unsaturated fats (monounsaturated and polyunsaturated) and omega-3 fats (one or more a day).

Heart disease may seem like a distant care, but it’s never too early to start practicing healthy habits. I’ll leave you with a quote from the book Total Wellness by Dr. Joseph Pizzorno: “Half the costs of illness are wasted on conditions that could be prevented.”

So don’t grow into your adult life to regret what could easily be prevented now. Your body is your temple. Treat it that way.

-Amanda Sandlin

Senior journalism major

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