(Family Features)–Did you know that heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States? One in four people die from it each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and millions more have it or are at risk of developing the disease. Smoking, being overweight or having diabetes, high cholesterol levels, high blood pressure or a family history of heart disease all increase your chances of getting the disease.
The good news is that you can do something about it.
“It’s never too late—or too early—to lower your risk for heart disease,” says Josephine Boyington, Ph.D., a nurse, licensed nutritionist and program director in the Division of Cardiovascular Health at the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI), part of the National Institutes of Health.
“Heart disease is a general term for a variety of conditions, such as clogged arteries, that make it difficult for your heart to pump blood properly,” she says. “Adopting small changes, like moving more and following a heart-healthy eating plan, can make a big difference. Research has shown that making healthy lifestyle changes that last can be a lot easier when you have friends or family doing it with you.”
To mark American Heart Month, the NHLBI—the nation’s leader in research on the prevention and treatment of heart, lung, blood and sleep disorders—is encouraging that kind of group support. It is celebrating “Our Hearts,” a national effort to motivate Americans to join each other in adopting heart-healthy behaviors throughout the year and beyond.
Ready to start? Here are three tried-and-true ways you and your friends and family can help each other give your hearts a boost.
1. Adopt a healthy eating plan. Try NHLBI’s Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) eating plan. It’s free and, when compared to a typical American diet, has been scientifically proven to lower blood pressure and improve blood cholesterol levels. The DASH eating plan features fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fish, beans, nuts and lean meats, and it limits foods that are high in saturated fats, sugars and sodium. Have fun with menus by inviting friends to join you for a heart-healthy dinner party or start a lunch club at work and trade creative recipe ideas with your colleagues.
2. Move more and #MoveWithHeart. One of the major risk factors for heart disease is inactivity. Getting up and moving helps lower that risk—and you don’t need to put in hours at a time to see results. Breaking up your daily activity into small chunks, such as 10-minute increments three times a day for five days a week, can begin to make a difference. To stay motivated, find a walking buddy or make a standing date to walk with a friend or neighbor, dance at home with your kids or play a pick-up soccer or basketball game with colleagues. The bottom line: just move.
3. Quit smoking. It can be hard to stop, but the benefits to your lungs and heart are huge. For inspiration and to keep you motivated, consider a support group. You can find resources and connect with a trained counselor by calling 1-800-QUIT-NOW or visiting smokefree.gov.
For more information about heart health, and to discover what activities are going on in your community, visit nhlbi.nih.gov/ourhearts.
Source: National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute