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American Heart Month Small Steps to Protect Our Hearts. A vibrant salad in a red, heart-shaped bowl surrounded by nuts, seeds, a green apple, blue water bottle, blue hand weights and a yellow tape measurer.

Live Vibrantly - February 14, 2024

Small Steps to Protect Our Hearts

By Amanda Ranowsky

Our hearts are our life force. Of the five vital organs in the body that are critical to our survival, you could say that the heart is the most important. With every pump, it delivers blood containing the oxygen and nutrients we need to every cell throughout our body. That blood also takes away carbon dioxide and other waste from those cells.

Studies show more than half the adult population in this country don’t know this troubling statistic: heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States, and has been so for the past century. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) heart disease accounts for one out of every five deaths in the U.S.

While certain uncontrollable factors such as age, family history and other medical conditions might increase your risk of heart disease, you can take steps to protect your heart. And if a major overhaul of your lifestyle sounds too daunting, don’t stress out! As the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute suggests, even small changes can have a big impact on protecting our hearts.

This American Heart Month, let’s explore a few small steps you can take to keep your heart healthy.

Learn About Risks

A 2020 Cleveland Clinic Study found that 92% of Americans don’t know that the vast majority of heart disease is due to modifiable or controllable risk factors. This statistic implies that we are woefully unprepared to fight our greatest enemy – an enemy that has a rather large chink in its armor. By taking even just a few minutes to educate yourself here today, you are already on your way to getting the upper hand.

Some traditional risk factors over which you do have control are high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes and lack of regular physical activity. These factors can be helped by the next two tips, shared with the assistance of Goodwin House Bailey’s Crossroads (GHBC) Registered Dietitian Manager Alison Neov and Fitness Manager Luke Logan. They recently came together to share these top heart health tips. Now, we get to pass those tips on to you!

Increase Your Fiber

Alison knows just how much what we eat can affect our heart health. In fact, she shared several dietary tips to improve your heart health in an article for American Heart Month in 2021. In her recent presentation to residents, she shared the manifold benefits of increasing your fiber intake.

“Dietary fiber is a type of carbohydrate that the body cannot digest,” she said. “That means it’s a carbohydrate that doesn’t break down into glucose molecules. Instead of increasing the sugar molecules in your bloodstream, it actually helps to keep your blood sugar in check.”

Foods can contain two types of dietary fiber: soluble and insoluble.

Soluble fiber dissolves in water to form a gel-like material. “It lowers cholesterol levels by decreasing fat absorption from the intestinal tract,” explained Alison. “It also slows your digestion, which helps prevent sudden blood sugar spikes and keeps you feeling full longer.” For good sources of soluble fiber, Alison recommends staples such as oats, peas, beans, apples, citrus fruit, carrots and barley for your grocery list.

Insoluble fiber does not dissolve in water, meaning it will pass through your gut largely whole. “This helps move material through your digestive system and add to the bulk in your stool,” said Alison. “Good sources of insoluble fiber are whole wheat flour, wheat bran, nuts, beans and vegetables.”

“There’s all kinds of benefits to eating fiber,” Alison shared. “According to a 2022 BMC Public Health Study, higher fiber intake is associated with a reduced risk for cardiovascular disease. Fiber has also been shown to reduce blood pressure and reduce inflammation. It’s your basic powerhouse nutrient!”

Paying attention to your fiber intake can take some effort, though it can become more manageable when we break it into goals throughout the day. “Women need 21 grams of fiber per day, and men need 30,” Alison said. “If we take 30 grams as our goal, that could divide out into nine grams of fiber in your breakfast, 12 grams of fiber in your lunch, seven grams in your dinner and two grams in a snack.”

With the right foods, those numbers are definitely achievable. “Small changes such as including one fruit or vegetable with each meal, choosing a whole grain for your carbohydrate, including beans in your diet and snacking on nuts with dried fruit can set the stage for meeting your daily target,” Alison said.

Get Moving!

With fiber lowering your cholesterol, blood sugar and blood pressure, we have one additional risk factor to explore: physical activity. That’s where GHBC Fitness Manager Luke Logan comes in.

“There are many heart healthy benefits to engaging in physical exercise,” he shared. “Aerobic (or cardio) exercises such as walking, swimming, biking or rowing have been shown to lower your resting heart rate, decrease blood pressure and increase your lung capacity and oxygen levels.”

Cardio isn’t the only beneficial form of exercise. “Strength training can increase your good cholesterol and decrease bad cholesterol,” Luke said. “It helps to increase your muscle mass, which in turn increases your insulin sensitivity. As insulin resistance is tied to developing Type 2 Diabetes, improved insulin sensitivity reduces the likelihood that you will develop that particular risk factor for heart disease.”

Luke recommends older adults get 120 to 150 minutes of exercise per week, incorporating both aerobic exercises and strength training. If that sounds like an unattainable number, think of it this way: If you took three 30-minute exercise classes (and there are a variety of classes on offer at our campuses) and went for two 20-minute walks during the week, you’d be within the recommended range.

“Break it up into smaller chunks of time,” Luke recommended, “and find a schedule that works for you. Three 10-minute spurts of activity are still 30 minutes of work – you don’t need to do it all at once for it to count. It’s good to start slow and work your way up, and any movement is better than no movement. Find something you enjoy, and it will be easy to get your activity in!”

This American Heart Month, let’s all find some small steps we can take to protect our hearts!


As Marketing & Communications Specialist, Amanda Ranowsky partners with colleagues throughout Goodwin Living to tell our stories and raise brand awareness. From printed collateral to digital marketing, Amanda covers many bases. Before joining Goodwin Living, Amanda worked for a small, family-owned business where she gained experience in content marketing. Amanda’s creative expression extends beyond the office. She is an active member of community theater and chorus groups.


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