Saturday, February 13, 2016

Think About Heart Health on This Valentine's Day

Valentine’s Day is the holiday in which we consider matters of the heart. For the sake of our health, it’s important that we think about our hearts on the other days of the year as well.

Putting the emphasis on cardiovascular health is essential to maintaining a healthy Body-Brain System, and maintaining a healthy Body-Brain System is the key to living a long and productive life of learning and doing all the things that we love to do most.

What better time than this Valentine's Day holiday to celebrate the steps we can all take to adopt a cardio-protective lifestyle? The American Heart Association offers a simple prescription for heart health in the following "Simple 7" health guidelines:

  • Get active, with 30 minutes of moderate physical activity, such as brisk walking, at least five times a week (60 minutes for children).
  • Control cholesterol through a healthy diet and regular exercise to maintain a healthy weight.
  • Eat healthy. A heart-healthy diet relies on whole grain fiber, lean protein, and a variety of colorful fruits and vegetables; it is low in saturated and trans fats, cholesterol, sodium, and added sugar.
  • Manage your blood pressure. The previous three steps should help, but some people are genetically predisposed to high blood pressure and may need medication.
  • Work to maintain a body mass index below 25.0.
  • Maintain your blood sugar in a healthy range below the 200 fasting level.
  • Stop smoking. Or never start. At any age, giving up this habit can improve heart health.

Almost all of us can make improvements in one or more of these areas. According to the AHA, 97% of Americans fail to consistently adhere to cardio-protective behaviors. To evaluate how heart-healthy your lifestyle is, visit the My Life Check assessment tool.

Over the years, we’ve heard from teachers who have found a direct correlation between exercise and the ability to learn. We recall the words of Meg Norris, a former middle school teacher in Georgia who told us a few years ago how students in her afternoon classes struggled to stayed focus. The problem was particularly acute as students began preparations for standardized testing:

"We discovered that five minutes of fresh air, or stretching, or a high protein snack ... could help refocus our students," she explained. "We showed them their strengths and had them visualize their successes. We taught them how their brains worked and what they should be eating. By the end of the year we had more successes than we could imagine. I had a student give me a piece of candy he earned in another classroom and say, 'Here, this isn't good for my brain.' "

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