February, American Heart Month, signals the importance of taking steps to prevent heart disease, the No. 1 killer of women.
One in four women in the United States dies of heart disease, while one in 30 dies of breast cancer, said LSU AgCenter nutritionist Beth Reames.
People need to be aware of risk factors or habits that make a person more likely to develop a disease, Reames says. Risk factors for heart disease are:
• High blood pressure.
• High blood cholesterol.
• Being overweight.
• Being physically inactive.
• Having a family history of early heart disease.
• Age, which is 55 years old or older for women.
Exercise can help control blood cholesterol, diabetes and obesity. It can also help lower blood pressure. For most healthy people, health experts recommend at least 30 minutes of physical activity on most or all days of the week.
"Moderate activities such as walking, gardening, housework or dancing for at least 30 minutes on most days can help your heart," she says. "The time may be broken into shorter periods. If youíve been inactive, you can start with 10 minutes of physical activity, then work up to more."
Itís important to remember that even modest weight loss – five to 10 percent of body weight – can help lower the risk of heart disease.
"Although you may be eating plenty of food, your body make not be getting the nutrients it needs to be healthy," Reames says. "Make smart choices to get the nutrients you need."
High blood pressure increases risk of stroke and heart disease complications. A diet that includes natural sources of potassium is important because potassium blunts the effects of sodium. The recommended daily intake of potassium for an average adult is about 4,700 milligrams per day. Too much potassium can be harmful in many older persons and those with kidney disorders, Reames warns.