American Heart Month will soon come to an end, so I thought I would publish an article about heart health.

The risk of heart and blood vessel (cardiovascular) disease increases with age. Cardiovascular disease can affect blood vessels in the heart, brain, legs, and kidneys. With age, the heart and blood vessels become stiffer and less elastic. As a result, the heart and blood vessels are less able to expand and constrict. However, the biggest factor for the increased risk of cardiovascular disease with age is the accumulative effect of risk factors over time.

There are many factors which can increase the risk of cardiovascular disease. Some cardiovascular risk factors cannot be changed, such as aging, gender, and family history of heart disease. However, there are some risk factors can be changed, like high blood pressure, diabetes, high LDL-cholesterol and triglycerides, low HDL-cholesterol, high blood homocysteine, obesity (especially in the abdominal area), physical inactivity, and smoking.

There are many actions which can lower the risk of cardiovascular disease. So, what can you do to lower your risk of cardiovascular disease? Maintain a healthy weight or moderate weight. This will help prevent or control Type 2 diabetes and lower LDL cholesterol, triglycerides, and blood pressure. Regular physical activity can improve heart and blood vessel function. In addition, physical activity can help lower LDL cholesterol, triglycerides and blood pressure and increase HDL cholesterol. Abstaining from smoking can remove the negative effects of smoking related to oxidative damage, and lower HDL cholesterol.

When consuming fats, choose more unsaturated fats and oils. Choosing foods with less added sugar and sodium can help with weight control and lower triglycerides. Use alcohol in moderation. Moderate alcohol intake- one drink a day for women or two drinks a day for men - has beneficial effects on HDL-cholesterol, inflammation and blood clotting. However, heavy alcohol intake - three or more drinks a day - can increase blood pressure and triglycerides.

Consume enough fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, seafood, and low-fat milk. These foods provide helpful nutrients. Fiber can help lower LDL-cholesterol. Vitamin E and vitamin C can help protect against LDL-cholesterol oxidation. Folate, vitamin B6, and vitamin B12 can lower homocysteine. Omega-3 fatty acids can defend against inflammation, lower triglycerides, and reduce the risk of blood clots. Potassium, calcium, and magnesium can help lower the risk of high blood pressure.

Several of the Dietary Guidelines can help promote heart and blood vessel health. Make half your plate fruits and vegetables, low-fat dairy, make at least half your grains whole, twice a week, make seafood the protein on your plate, eat beans, which are a natural source of fiber and protein. Eat the right amount of calories and be physically active your way. Cook more often at home, where you are in control of what is in your food. When eating out, choose lower calorie options. Try to get at least 150 minutes a week of moderate-intensity or 75 minutes a week of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity. If you cannot meet this guideline, be as physically active as your abilities and conditions will allow.

For more information about financial management, health and wellness, parenting or to schedule a program in the family and consumer sciences area, contact the OSU Cooperative Extension Service in Cherokee County by phone at 918-456-6163.

Heather Winn is a family and consumer sciences educator for the Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service in Cherokee County.

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