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February is American Heart Month – Prevent Heart Disease

  • Published
  • By Greg Chadwick
  • Air Force Materiel Command Health & Wellness Team

February is American Heart Month. Focusing on your heart health has never been more important. Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States.

You can help prevent heart disease by following a heart-healthy lifestyle. Here are strategies to help you protect your heart.

Choose Heart-Healthy foods. These foods are the foundation of a heart -healthy eating plan.

  1. Eat more vegetables and fruits. Vegetables and fruits are a good source of vitamins and minerals. Vegetables and fruits are also low in calories and rich in dietary fiber. The best way to get all the vitamins, minerals, and nutrients you need is to eat a variety of colorful fruits and vegetables. Examples of how to add color to your diet:
  • Green- broccoli, collard greens, green beans, pears, romaine lettuce, spinach, zucchini
  • Red- apples, beets, cranberries, grapes, strawberries, tomatoes, watermelon
  • Orange & Yellow- apricots, cantaloupe, carrots, oranges, peaches, sweet potatoes
  • Blue & Purple- blackberries, blueberries, eggplant, grapes, plums, prunes, raisins
  • White- bananas, cauliflower, mushrooms, onions, potatoes
  1. Select whole grains. Whole grains are good sources of fiber and other nutrients that play a role in regulating blood pressure and heart health. Grain products to choose include:
  • 100% whole wheat bread or 100% whole-grain bread
  • High fiber cereal with 5 grams or more fiber per serving
  • Whole grains such as brown rice, barley, and buckwheat
  • Whole-grain pasta
  1. Choose low-fat protein sources. Lean meat, poultry and fish, low-fat dairy products, and eggs are some of the best sources of protein. Legumes- beans, peas, and lentils- are also good, low-fat sources of protein and contain no cholesterol, making them good substitutes for meat.

Proteins to choose include:

  • Fish such as salmon, tuna, trout, and sardines
  • Skinless poultry such as chicken and turkey
  • Lean meats such as 95% lean ground beef or pork tenderloin
  • Low-fat dairy products such as skim or low-fat (1%) milk, yogurt, and cheese
  • Eggs
  • Nuts such as walnuts, almonds, and pine nuts
  • Seeds such as sesame, pumpkin, or flax
  • Soybeans and soy products (tofu) 

Maintain a healthy weight. People with overweight or obesity have a higher risk for heart disease.  Carrying extra weight can put more stress on the heart and blood vessels. Your heart must work extra hard to pump blood through the body. The harder your heart pumps, the higher your blood pressure, which can cause heart disease and stroke. Losing weight can lower your blood pressure.

The body mass index (BMI) uses height and weight to find out whether a person is overweight or obese. A BMI of 25 or higher is considered overweight.

BMI doesn’t take into account your muscle mass, bone density, or body composition. Even if two people have the same BMI, their amount of excess body fat may differ.

To find out if your weight is in a healthy range, calculate your BMI here

Get regular physical activity. Regular physical activity can help you lose excess weight, improve your physical fitness, lower many heart disease risk factors, and manage high blood pressure. Over time, regular physical activity conditions the heart to pump blood more efficiently throughout the body.  

Participate in aerobic exercise (brisk walking, running, biking, or swimming) for at least a few minutes at a time throughout the week. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans recommends that adults get at least 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity aerobic activity or 75 minutes per week of vigorous aerobic activity (or a combination of both), preferably spread throughout the week. Also, include muscle-strengthening activity (like bodyweight resistance or weight training) at least twice a week.

Don’t smoke and avoid secondhand smoke. Cigarette smoking is a major risk factor for heart disease. The chemicals you inhale when you smoke cause damage to your heart and blood vessels that makes you more likely to develop atherosclerosis, or plaque buildup in the arteries.

Nonsmokers are up to 30% more likely to develop heart disease or lung cancer from secondhand smoke exposure at home or work, according to a U.S. Surgeon General report.

If you smoke cigarettes, you can find resources to help you on your journey to living a smoke-free life at

Comprehensive information on how to prevent heart disease can be found at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website at