Women's Health Week: 7 Simple Tips for Heart Health

While breast cancer gets a lot of attention in the media and is certainly a concern, heart disease is the leading cause of death for women in the United States and a leading cause of disability among women.

Heart disease risk varies with age. If you are in your 20s and 30s, consider this your prime prevention phase. Develop and maintain heart healthy behaviors to stave off heart disease and manage your weight for as long as possible.

As you get older, your risk for heart disease increases dramatically. Changing hormone levels associated with menopause lead to increased fat around the midsection (belly fat) which appears to increase the risk for heart disease compared to fat distributed in other parts of the body.

Here are seven simple changes you can make to begin nurturing your heart at any stage of your life.

1. Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables daily. You've heard this one since grade school - it needs no explanation. But know that there's strong evidence in the power of fruits and vegetables to improve health and reduce your risk for heart disease. Aim for at least 2 cups of fruit and 2½ cups of vegetables daily.

2. Incorporate healthy fats. Snack on a handful of nuts instead of potato chips or pretzels. Swap a slice of avocado for cheese on a sandwich. These healthy fats have been shown to help reduce bad cholesterol levels.

3. Eat seafood a couple times a week. Get 8 ounces a week. Focus on omega 3 rich, fatty fish like salmon, sardines or lake trout which are typically lower in mercury than some others. People tend to shy away from fish thinking it's too hard to make. But, cooking fish doesn't have to be a big production. Bake it in parchment paper with vegetables or try smoked salmon with your favorite salad greens for a simple lunch.

4. Add flavor not just salt. It's no secret that high sodium intake is not recommended. In fact, African-Americans, people 50 and over and those who already have high blood pressure, should limit sodium intake to less than 1500 milligrams a day. Instead of seasoned salt, onion salt and well... salt, experiment with other ways to season your food. Add amazing flavor to chicken with a marinade of lemon juice, olive oil and rosemary. Finish the dish with a pinch of salt to bring it all together but don't let it be the star of the dish.

5. Focus on fiber. Soluble fiber found in oats, barley, beans, flaxseed and some fruits and vegetables can help lower your cholesterol levels. Start your day with a bowl of oatmeal and berries, enjoy a bean burrito or veggie burger for lunch and a white bean and arugula salad for dinner to get a healthy dose of soluble fiber.

6. Cut back on added sugar. Excess sugar intake contributes excess calories which can lead to weight gain and a host of other health issues. Try sweet berries, cooked apples or pears or sautéed bananas for dessert. Learn to love tea without sugar by adding vanilla or try a teaspoon of cinnamon or unsweetened cocoa in your coffee to add flavor without excess sugar.

7. Be active. Engage in some form of physical activity every week - at least 150 minutes a week of moderate to vigorous exercise is recommended. You can break this down to 30 minutes 5 days a week or even smaller increments of 10 minutes or more. Just get moving.

Now, I get it. Life gets in the way of your best intentions. We give our hearts to loved ones, work and other interests but how much do we give to ourselves? I challenge you to implement just one suggestion from this list for the next seven weeks. Your heart will thank you.

Get more information on women's heart health and even more on heart health at Go Red for Women.

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