healthy family, happy hearts - dad and son eating a meal together

Tips for Living Heart-Healthy

The kids are back at school, fall sports are in full swing and many people are returning to some semblance of normal after a hectic year. Let’s add living heart-healthy to your daily to-do list.

But really, what does that mean for you and your family? Living heart-healthy means knowing your fats, eating smart, moving more, quitting smoking and taking medication as directed – all of which can help control cholesterol, which can build up in your arteries and increase the risk of heart disease.

Knowing Your Fats

High-density lipoprotein (HDL) is “good” cholesterol, while low-density lipoprotein (LDL) is “bad” cholesterol. Cholesterol comes from food, specifically from animal sources, and your body.

Cholesterol can be impacted by the fats you eat. Your body needs dietary fats to function as they provide energy, support cell growth, protect your organs and more, but not all fats are good fats. The “bad” fats – saturated fats and trans fats – raise LDL levels, while the “good” fats – monosaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats – can lower LDL levels.

Eating Smart

Eating foods with fat is part of a healthy diet, but you should choose foods that provide good fats while maintaining a nutritious diet. It is important to include fruits, veggies, whole grains, beans, legumes, nuts, plant-based proteins, lean animal proteins and fish in your daily diet, while also limiting your intake of salt, sugary drinks, sweets, fatty or processed meats and full-fat dairy products.

By preparing food at home, you can control what is added and bring out the natural flavors by using healthier cooking methods such as grilling, roasting and sautéing, as well as add flavors with herbs and spices, instead of sugar, salt and unhealthy fats.

Moving More

What you eat is just one piece of the puzzle toward heart-healthy living – physical activity can also help improve cholesterol levels. Unfortunately, only one in five adults and teens get enough exercise to maintain good health, according to the American Heart Association.

While your goal should be 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity aerobic, or “cardio,” activity or 75 minutes per week of vigorous aerobic activity, simply sitting less can be a good place to start if you have been sedentary.

Try this: take a brisk walk for 5-10 minutes a few times every day – this will quickly add up and it breaks it up into short bursts throughout the day. Remember that any amount of activity is better than none.

September is Eat Smart Month, Cholesterol Education Month and Childhood Obesity Month; World Heart Day is also celebrated on Sept. 29 – so now is a great time to start your journey toward heart-healthy living.

UTMB Health is the official Bay Area sponsor for the American Heart Association.

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