February is heart health month. Here are a few tips to take care of your heart.


It's important to move and exercise our heart and cardiovascular system. The heart is a muscle and needs to be kept in condition. It keeps us alive so it's not much to ask to give it a little love. It doesn't have to be heart pounding and sweat soaking. Movement and circulation is what your heart will thank you for. Walk, bike, run, ski, snowshoe, swim, play a round of golf without the cart, go bowling, take a yoga or stretch class.


Food is for nourishment and enjoyment. Eating well is something your heart and cardiovascular system will thank you for. You will also likely feel better, have more energy and think clearly when you do.
The 2010 Dietary Guidelines suggest watching saturated and trans fat intake. Fried foods and rich sauces typically contain a higher amount of saturated fat, and processed foods contain some trans fats, however many food manufacturers have reduced, and even eliminated in some cases, trans fats in their products. Processed foods also tend to contain more sodium. Over 70 percent of the sodium in our diets can come from processed foods. The guidelines also suggest limit sodium intake to 2300 mg per day; for those over 51 or with hypertension, diabetes, chronic kidney disease or African American descent, limit to 1500 mg per day.
Fresh and unprocessed foods contain less sodium. Foods with potassium, such as fresh fruits and vegetables, lean meats, and low or nonfat dairy products are good sources. Potassium can help counter the sodium intake in our diets. Be sure to discuss this with your healthcare practitioner or a registered dietitian.
Cutting out sodium all at once is a difficult thing to do. We also need some in our diets for our heart to function properly. It takes a few weeks to months for our taste buds to adapt to a lower sodium diet. One way to reduce sodium is to add herbs and spices to your seasonings. This way you're not cutting out salt completely, just cutting back. Also, some hot sauce, a squeeze of some citrus juice or some vinegar can help add some flavor back to your meal.


Our hearts will also thank us for relaxation. Stress can aggravate high blood pressure, which is a risk for cardiovascular disease.
What are you doing to relieve stress? Think about a number of strategies that you can incorporate. Get a double whammy of calorie burning and stress relief with exercise. Also consider, reading, meditation, socializing with friends or taking up a new hobby.

Have some dark chocolate. Chocolate with 60-70% cacao has a higher level of antioxidants. Chocolate has been found to possess heart healthy properties by relaxing the arteries, assisting in blood pressure reduction and improving mood. So, have a cup of homemade cocoa (mix unsweetened cocoa powder with milk and add your own amount of sweetener), enjoy some dark chocolate and enjoy the savory taste. About 1 to 1.5 ounces of solid chocolate is a serving size.

Take some time every day for yourself--just a little bit--even if its 15 to 30 minutes--your heart, mind and body will thank you!

Author's Bio: 

Susan M. Piergeorge, MS, RD is a registered dietitian. Her background includes nutrition counseling, health promotion, such as stress management, smoking cessation and worksite wellness. She also possesses a professional culinary certificate and teach cooking classes and recipe makeovers.
Her book Boomer Be Well! Rebel Against Aging through Food, Nutrition and Lifestyle will be published in the spring of 2011.
Her blog is www.boomerbewell.com and her website is susanpiergeorge.com She can be reached at susan@susanpiergeorge.com