Focus on healthy living to prevent heart disease

Mar 22, 2018 | 0 comments

As a member of the Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics, I’m privileged to have as colleagues some of the most accomplished Registered Dietitian Nutritionists (RDNs). Our column this week emphasizes lifestyle behaviors that people throughout the world can take to heart — for a healthy heart!


Our guest columnist this week is Mark A. Mahoney, Ph.D. A registered dietitian/nutritionist for over 30 years, he completed graduate studies in Nutrition & Public Health at Columbia University. A weekly blogger on all things related to health & fitness for Florida’s capital city’s newspaper, The Tallahassee Democrat, Mark can be reached at

Focus on healthy living to prevent heart disease

Mark Mahoney, Ph.D.

Recently I had the opportunity to attend the annual HerHeart Symposium sponsored by the Tallahassee, Florida Capital Regional Medical Center, where Dr. Shamil Castro provided some valuable education to participants with a focus on women and heart disease. This blog will focus on reiterating the importance of preventing cardiovascular disease with a focus on healthy lifestyle factors for both men and women.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States. About 610,000 people die of heart disease in the United States every year – that’s 1 in every 4 deaths. As reported in El Mercurcio, in March 2016 the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) conducted a study in Ecuador that showed 30% of the adult population between 40 and 69 years are at risk for a disease associated with cardiac system malfunction. Fortunately, heart disease is largely preventable and there are many things people can do to reduce their risk.

A healthy diet is key to heart health.

Although certain types of heart disease, such as heart defects, can’t be prevented, you can help prevent many other types of heart disease by making the same lifestyle changes that may also improve your heart disease, such as:

  • Eating a healthy diet (low in salt and trans fat and saturated fats).
  • Maintaining a healthy weight.
  • Getting enough physical activity.
  • Not smoking or using other forms of tobacco.
  • Limiting alcohol use.

By living a healthy lifestyle, you can help keep your blood pressure, cholesterol, and sugar normal and lower your risk for heart disease and heart attack. A healthy lifestyle includes the following:

 Healthy diet

Choosing healthful meal and snack options can help you avoid heart disease and its complications. Be sure to eat plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables and fewer processed foods.

Eating foods low in saturated fats, trans fat, and cholesterol (avoid processed meats) and high in fiber (whole grains, fruits, and vegetables) can help prevent high blood cholesterol. Limiting salt (sodium) in your diet also can lower your blood pressure (read food labels; limit store-bought bread and rolls, snack foods and restaurant foods). Limiting sugar in your diet can lower your blood sugar level to prevent or help control diabetes.

Consulting a nutrition professional (Registered Dietitian Nutritionist, RDN) can assist in your effort to consume a healthy diet

 Healthy weight

Being overweight or obese increases your risk for heart disease. To determine if your weight is in a healthy range, doctors often calculate your body mass index. If you know your weight and height, you can calculate your BMI at CDC’s Assessing Your Weight website at

BMI is not always the most accurate measurement of your risk for disease since you can be “overweight” but not “overfat.” BMI often overestimates body fat in muscular people and underestimates body fat in older persons and others who have lost muscle.

Waist and hip measurements help to calculate excess body fat. The NIH’s Aim for a Healthy Weight writes that if you carry most of your fat around your weight instead of your hips, you may be at higher risk for heart disease and type 2 diabetes. Risk increases in women with a waist size greater than 35 inches (89 cm), and in men, greater than 40 inches (102.6 cm). To correctly measure your waist, stand and place a tape measure around your middle, just above your hipbones. Measure your waist just after you breathe out.

The table Risks of Obesity-Associated Diseases by BMI and Waist Circumference provides you with an idea of whether your BMI combined with your waist circumference increases your risk for developing obesity-associated diseases or conditions.

Physical activity

Physical activity can help you maintain a healthy weight and lower your blood pressure, blood cholesterol, and blood sugar levels. For adults, the U.S. Surgeon General recommends 2 hours and 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise, like brisk walking or bicycling, every week. Children and adolescents should get 1 hour of physical activity every day.

For more information, see CDC’s Nutrition, Physical Activity and Obesity website at

 No smoking

Cigarette smoking is the most important preventable cause of premature death in the United States, and everywhere! In the U.S. alone, it accounts for more than 440,000 of the more than 2.4 million annual deaths.

If you don’t smoke, don’t start. If you do smoke, quitting will lower your risk for heart disease. is a great place to start. It is intended to help you or someone you care about quit smoking.

Limited alcohol

Drinking too much alcohol raises the risk of high blood pressure, high triglycerides, heart failure, and of course, contributes excess calories, raising the risk for obesity and type 2 diabetes. If you drink alcohol, do so in moderation. This means an average of one to two drinks per day for men and one drink per day for women. (A drink is one 12 oz. beer, 4 oz./113.4g of wine, 1.5 oz./42.5g of 80-proof spirits, or 1 oz./28 g of 100-proof spirits.) Avoid sugary drink mixes, like regular soda and fruit juices. Learn more from the American Heart Association.

Stress, health conditions and hygiene

In addition, reducing and managing stress, controlling other health conditions, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes, and practicing good hygiene will go a long way toward helping in preventing heart disease.

View the short video produced on women and heart disease produced by the Mayo Clinic at

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