Show the heart tender love and care with diet, exercise

By Brittany Jacks
MSU Ag Communications

MISSISSIPPI STATE — The heart is the most vital organ in the body, and keeping it healthy can mean a better and longer life.

The most common type of heart disease is coronary heart disease, said David Buys, a health specialist with the Mississippi State University Extension Service and researcher with the Mississippi Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station.

“Coronary heart disease is a condition in which the coronary arteries, or tubes, that take blood to the heart become either partially or fully blocked,” he said. “This is the result of cholesterol or plaque buildup in the arteries. Things that cause this are too much fat and cholesterol in the blood, high blood pressure, smoking and too much sugar in the blood, likely due to diabetes.”

WomanTreadmillC1105_L_300_C_YBuys said certain types of people are more at risk for heart disease than others, such as women over age 55 and men over age 45. A person whose father or brother had heart disease before age 55, or whose mother or sister had heart disease before age 65 is more at risk.

Maintaining a healthy heart can be difficult, but with the right food choices it can be easier.

“Stay away from foods with saturated and trans fat, such as fatty meats, fried foods, cakes and cookies,” Buys said. “Reduce salt intake by purchasing low-sodium and ‘no salt added’ items, especially when buying canned soups, vegetables, snack foods and deli meat. Increase fiber intake with things like vegetables, fruits and whole grains.”

Exercise can be time-consuming, but it is essential for helping the heart stay in good condition.

“Adults should engage in a minimum of 2 hours and 30 minutes of moderate aerobic activity each week,” Buys said. “Examples include jogging, speed walking, bicycling, and Zumba or other aerobic activities.”

Liz Sadler, Extension agent and county coordinator in Lamar County, promotes heart health awareness in her community.

“I typically send a newsletter that incorporates heart health information,” Sadler said. “Go Red for Women’s Heart Health Awareness is one of the main activities people can get involved in to promote awareness.”

Sadler said there are other programs to help individuals maintain healthy hearts.

“Many local gyms in our area offer exercise classes, or just walking on a regular basis at least 30 minutes a day can help maintain heart health,” she said. “In our office we are starting a free stretch and strengthen class February 24. We also plan to have a family-oriented ‘Everybody Walk Day’ patterned after the American Heart Association’s National Walking Day to coincide with National Health Week in April.”

For more information on how to live a heart-healthy life, contact a local care provider or a county Extension agent.