Healthy Heart

Maintain a Healthy Heart All Year with These Simple Steps

by Sherry Roberts MPH, RD, CDCES; Registered Dietitian and Certified Diabetes Care and Education Specialist at Western Missouri Medical Center

During the month of February, hearts are everywhere! We see heart decorations on store shelves, plastered on all types of gadgets and gizmos for sales events during American Heart Month. We even eat heart-shaped specialty candies! All of that is great and wonderful, but the heart that needs to be focused on the most is our own.

Let all the hearts you see in February be a reminder to take steps to have a healthy heart. Here are some simple lifestyle choices that can help you maintain your heart health for the entire year.


Eat healthy foods

One of the most important steps to take to have a healthy heart is to follow a heart-healthy dietary eating pattern. Now, this is not a “diet” that is followed only during the month of February, but one that can and should be followed year-round.

Be sure to have a plate filled with a variety of colorful vegetables. They can be fresh or frozen, roasted or steamed, or even grilled and seasoned to your liking. Next include a serving of healthy protein sources such as fish or seafood, poultry (without the skin), lean cuts of beef or pork, low-fat dairy, or legumes.

The plate should also consist of small servings (1/3 to 1/2 cup serving size) of whole grains and fruit as well as heart-healthy fats like nuts, seeds, avocado, olives and olive oil. It is important to note that foods should be prepared with little to no salt, but can be seasoned with fresh herbs and spices, lemon juice and lime juice.


Cut down on sweets, trans fats and alcohol

Now that you know what should be on your plate, the next step is to be aware of the foods that should be limited in our daily diet. Foods that are highly processed and contain refined sugars need to be minimized, especially sugar-sweetened beverages and highly processed meats.

Additionally, foods that contain trans fats or hydrogenated oils should be avoided. These include commercially packaged baked goods, frozen pizza, non-dairy creamer and fried foods. Alcohol should also be limited or avoided to have a heart-healthy diet.

The first two steps can be applied easily when cooking at home but can also be done when eating away from home at restaurants or when ordering online. Select meals that are not fried, meals that have steamed or roasted vegetables as a side dish, and meals that are not covered in a rich or creamy sauce, and be sure to limit the refined sugar foods.


Make time for exercise

The next step to a heart-healthy routine is to include physical activity. It is recommended that we get at least 150 minutes of physical activity each week. For example, a 30-minute walk each day or three 10-minute walks each day will increase the heart rate to a moderate intensity.

When beginning an exercise routine, be sure to have medical clearance from your health care provider and stay hydrated.


Eliminate tobacco

Ensuring a healthy heart means living tobacco-free. This includes smoking, vaping, or using tobacco or nicotine products. Nicotine can cause an unsafe increase in blood pressure, as well as the narrowing of arteries and the hardening of the arterial walls, leading to an increased risk of a heart attack.

It’s never too late to quit! According to the CDC, smokers who quit begin to improve their heart health immediately, and dramatically reduce their risk of a heart attack within a year. Within five years of quitting, a former smoker can lower their risk of stroke to approximately the same risk as a person who has never smoked.


Schedule a heart scan

Knowing your risk for heart disease is an important step in maintaining a healthy heart. A preventative heart scan is a non-invasive procedure that can help assess your risk of heart disease and stroke, enabling you to work with your physician to take preventative action if necessary.

Heart scans are recommended once every five years for men over the age of 45 and women over the age of 50. Smokers and individuals at least 20 lbs. overweight are especially encouraged to get heart scans, as well as those who have high blood pressure, diabetes, or a family history of heart disease.

The Diagnostic Imaging department at Western Missouri Medical Center provides heart scans all year long. To schedule an appointment, call (660) 262-7370.


Now, the next time you see hearts everywhere, let them remind you to take care of your heart, not only during the month of February, but all year long.

For additional resources regarding heart health, visit the American Heart Association’s website.

Western Missouri Medical Center (WMMC) is a fully-accredited acute care county medical center located in Warrensburg, MO. WMMC prides itself in emergency care, obstetrics, orthopedic and general surgery, family healthcare, internal medicine, outpatient clinics, ambulatory care, rehabilitation services and more. Inpatient services include medical, surgical, intensive, obstetrical, orthopedic, pediatric and skilled nursing care, as well as a wide range of therapeutic and diagnostic outpatient services. This institution is an equal opportunity provider and employer.