American Heart Month

Did you know that heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women? About 1 in 4 deaths are attributed to heart disease and it takes the lives of more than 2,150 Americans every day. While there are some factors that we cannot change such as genetics and family history, there are some things that we can change to reduce our risk for cardiovascular disease and reduce or eliminate further complications.

One of the risk factors of heart disease is poor nutrition. You can make small changes each day to improve your diet and reduce your risk of heart disease.  Some of these changes include:

  1. Reducing the amount of saturated fats and trans fats that you consume. These “bad fats” can be found in fatty meats, sausage, and processed foods.  Every 2% of calories from trans fat has been associated with a 23% higher risk of coronary artery disease.1
  2. Reduce your salt intake.  Eating foods that contain too much salt such as processed foods, deli meats, and adding extra salt at mealtimes can contribute to elevated blood pressure.  A high salt intake can also cause your body to retain fluid which makes your heart work harder.
  3. Increase the amount of fruits and vegetables you consume.  Each daily serving of fruits or vegetables has been associated with a 4% lower risk of CHD and a 5% lower risk of stroke.1
  4. Try to make half of the grains you consume whole-grains.  Whole-grains contain fiber which can help reduce your cholesterol levels.

Lack of physical activity is another risk factor for cardiovascular disease. The bottom line is…just get moving! Just 30 minutes a day of physical activity can have health benefits. Ten minutes here and 10 minutes there can really add up! Here are some ways to incorporate physical activity into your daily life:

  • Try taking the stairs instead of the elevator.
  • Take the dog for a walk.
  • Park the car further away from the grocery store or when you are out shopping.

And lastly, know your numbers! If you have not had your cholesterol and triglycerides checked in a while or you’re uncertain about what your blood pressure is, it’s time to find out. Here is a list of target ranges and more information regarding the numbers from the American Heart Association:

Critical Health Marker

Recommended Range

More Information

Blood sugar
The amount of sugar (glucose) in the blood

HbA1c (glycosylated hemoglobin) less than 6%


HbA1c (glycosylated hemoglobin) less than 7%

Pre-meal glucose – 70 to 130 mg/dl

Post-meal peak glucose - <180 mg

Blood sugar is measured by the amount of glycosylated hemoglobin (HbA1c) in your blood. An HbA1c test gives you a picture of your average blood sugar control for the past 2 to 3 months and provides you with a better idea of how well your diabetes treatment plan is working.

Your healthcare provider will advise you if these ranges are too strict for your condition.

Blood pressure
The force of blood against the arteries when the heart beats and rests
Less than 130/80 mm Hg Blood pressure is typically measured by a device that uses the height of a column of mercury (Hg) to reflect the circulating systolic and diastolic pressures. Systolic pressure (top number) is the peak pressure in the arteries, and diastolic pressure (bottom number) is the lowest pressure.
Blood cholesterol
A waxy substance produced by the liver
LDL cholesterol levels below 100 mg/dL

HDL cholesterol level above 40 mg/dL for men and 50mg/dL for women

Triglycerides below 100 mg/dL

Because cholesterol is unable to dissolve in the blood, it has to be transported to and from the cells by carriers called lipoproteins. Low-density lipoprotein (or LDL) cholesterol, is known as "bad" cholesterol; high-density lipoprotein (or HDL) cholesterol, is known as "good" cholesterol.
Body weight A body mass index (BMI) of 18.6-24.9

Waistline smaller than 35 inches for women and 40 inches for men

A person's ideal body weight varies by gender, age, height, and frame. Your body mass index (BMI) and waist circumference provide good indicators of whether you are at a healthy weight.

Heather Shasa MS, RD

1 American Heart Association. Nutrition and Cardiovascular Diseases Fact Sheet 2012 Update.

2 American Heart Association. Know Your Health Numbers. Updated:Jan. 31, 2012.