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My Turn: Loving your sweet heart

Posted: Friday, February 06, 2009

P erhaps when you read the title words "sweet heart," you thought it was a misspelling, or perhaps you were reminded that it is almost time to provide that loved one a heart-shaped box of Valentine's chocolates. I am speaking, however, about women loving and caring for their own sweet hearts. Women are often wonderful caretakers of their loved ones, friends and communities but frequently ignore their own personal care including their cardiovascular health.

The American Heart Association (www.americanheart.org) seeks to increase awareness of the importance of cardiovascular health for women with their February "Go Red for Women" campaign. Many women are unaware that heart disease is the No. 1 cause of death for women in our country. In fact, heart disease and stroke account for more deaths each year in women than all types of cancer combined. Heart disease is largely preventable and with knowledge and small lifestyle changes, women can care for their own hearts.

Begin your heart-healthy journey by incorporating a simple fitness plan into your life. Exercise decreases blood pressure, improves cholesterol levels, promotes weight loss, enhances energy levels and reduces depression.

Aerobic exercise can be integrated into your daily routine. For instance, decide to take the stairs instead of the elevator. If you do not have time for a 30-minute walk, choose to add two brisk 15-minute walks during the day. Hate cleaning the house? Turn up some of your favorite lively music and dust and mop with the intention to raise your heart rate. Who would guess house cleaning could be good for the heart?

If your budget does not allow for a gym membership, purchase a set of five and 10-pound dumbbells to increase muscular strength. Start slowly by training twice a week. If your muscles are sore after a workout, do not weight train the same muscle group until the soreness has subsided. Doing more is not always best! If you are unfamiliar with weight training, investing in an hour of personal training or buying a beginner's book or DVD on home fitness may be advantageous. However, if you are a beginner, be cautious when attempting to weight train for the first time. Often, beginners make mistakes in their form which can lead to injuries. Aside from that, resistance training has been shown to increase lean body mass and boost metabolism. Not only will this burn more calories, but it will also allow you to do the things that you enjoy in life.

Nutrition is an essential component of cardiovascular health. An excellent site for calculating daily caloric needs and portion sizes can be found at www.MyPyramid.gov. Many people underestimate the power of nutrition in their lives, but studies have shown that eating a variety of colorful fruits and vegetables can reduce your risk of heart disease and stroke. When you sit down to eat, about half of the plate should be fruits and vegetables. You can help get your daily intake by having an apple or orange readily available at home and work as a snack instead of greasy chips or candy bars.

Whole grain foods reduce the risk of heart disease. When shopping for breads, cereals or rice, aim for those which label whole grain as the leading ingredient. Don't be fooled by products which say "multi-grain." Most women need three servings from the milk group daily. Skim milk or yogurt makes for a quick, nutritious snack. When selecting proteins for cardiovascular health, choose beans, salmon, chicken breast or tofu. Red meat should be eaten sparingly due to its saturated fat content. Saturated fats are unnecessary for bodily function and consumption of these fats is directly linked to obesity and heart disease. Read labels and choose products low in saturated fats.

Small changes such as parking further from the store entrance, utilizing dumbbells, reading labels on food packages and consuming a diet high in fruits and vegetables and low in saturated fats is a good start for women who want to begin loving their sweet hearts.

• Juanita Reese is a licensed practical nurse, ACE certified personal trainer and Juneau resident.



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