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OSU Extension

College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences

February 20, 2024 - 10:47am --

Some mornings, all those stairs leading to my second-floor office look a little daunting. I climb a long flight from the lower-level parking lot to the building, then a couple more sets inside the building. It’s one way I rev up my heart rate during the day.

          February is Heart Health Month, a time to focus on how we can improve our heart health.

          Heart disease remains the leading cause of death in the United States for men and women. In fact, heart disease kills more women than all cancers combined, according to Bernadine Melnyk, Ohio State University’s vice president for Health Promotion and Chief Wellness Office.

The good news, however, is that about 80 percent of cardiovascular health is preventable with just a few healthy lifestyle behaviors. Being more active is one of them. Take the stairs, park farther away. Get up! Take a break from the screen. As Melnyk likes to say, “Beware of your chair.” Three hours of sitting in a day can increase our risk for heart disease by 30 percent.

In the workplace, Melnyk urges companies to cut 60-minute meetings to 45 or 50 minutes. “Yes, you can do that,” she said, “you’ll get through your agenda. And with the time you have left over, you can take a brisk walk.”  She said research shows that a 40 percent decrease in time employees spend in meetings leads to a 70 percent increase in productivity.

How much physical activity do we need?

The evidenced-based recommendation is at least two and a half hours or 150 minutes each week. That’s 30 minutes five days per week, or break it up into smaller chunks of time. It all adds up.

          “Even 11 minutes a day improves cardiovascular health,” Melnyk said.

          Our diet also plays a major role in heart health.

          Read nutrition labels to pick the food lowest in saturated fat, sodium and added sugars.

 A diet high in saturated fats and trans fats (those that are solid at room temperature) raises LDL, or what Melnyk terms “lousy” cholesterol levels in our blood. Eating an overall healthy dietary pattern that is higher in monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats (those that tend to be more liquid) can lower bad cholesterol levels. She recommends cooking with olive oil.

Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables, whole grains and beans. “Beans are like scrub brushes for your vessels,” Melnyk said. “They help eliminate lousy lipids.”

Limit foods high in cholesterol such as beef, pork, cheese, whole milk and lard. Bake, broil or roast food rather than fry it. Eat a handful of nuts daily. “Almonds and walnuts are the best kind,” Melnyk said.

Good heart health also involves good self-care, she said. Practice daily stress reduction and recognize when you’re burned out and depressed and need mental health help. Make a plan to deal with what is causing stress. Talk to someone you trust about how you feel.

Additional tips for maintaining good heart health are:

Get enough quality sleep - seven to nine hours of sleep a night.

Stop smoking and limit alcohol consumption to one drink a day.

Keep track of your numbers for blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar levels. Have them checked regularly.

Maintain a healthy weight – a good way to control many diseases and conditions.

The American Health Association’s “Healthy for Good” campaign approaches it with this simple message: Eat smart. Move More. Be Well.

It’s a message we all need to take to heart.

Laurie Sidle is an Ohio State University Extension Family and Consumer Sciences and 4-H program assistant and may be reached at 330-264-8722 or
This article was previously published in The Daily Record.