Healthy Hearts. Healthy Families. Healthy Communities.

With February as American Heart Month, the YMCA of Central Florida is encouraging local families, seniors, and individuals to get up, get moving and take charge of their health and wellness.

According to the American Heart Association, cardiovascular disease is the nation’s number one killer, accounting for 1-in-3 deaths each year. Additionally, 80 million adults have high blood pressure, yet less than half have it under control. Due to inactivity, too much “screen time” and poor food choices, even our kids are at risk.

Yet the good news is that heart disease, just like type 2 diabetes and other chronic conditions, can often be prevented through simple lifestyle changes. As a mission-driven organization committed to helping people achieve their fullest potential in Spirit, Mind, and Body, the Y offers these suggestions:

Get moving. Schedule time every day for exercise, active play, or even a brisk 10-minute walk after dinner. It’s fun, improves heart function, and helps every member of the family maintain a healthier weight and positive mindset.

Know your numbers, especially if you have a family history of high blood pressure. See your doctor, self-monitor, and take steps to avoid heart disease and stroke.

If you smoke, stop.

Be choosey. When it comes to protein, opt for leaner cuts of meat, poultry, and fish. Choose baked over fried. Limit saturated and unhealthy trans fats.

Go fresh. Replace high-calorie, low-nutrient carbohydrates, and processed foods with fresh, seasonal fruits, vegetables, and heart-healthy grains and legumes.

Say no to salt. When cooking, replace salt with herbs, spices, vinegar, or natural flavorings. Avoid highly processed, high-sodium foods like cured meats, frozen entrees, or canned and packaged foods.

Read food labels. Skip items that have more than 140 mg. of sodium per serving.

Reduce stress. Long-term anxiety can elevate your heart rate, blood pressure, and chances for artery damage.

Sleep more. Lack of sleep is associated with elevated cholesterol and blood pressure. Adults need at least seven hours per night. Children require 10-12 hours.

Be happy. Just as depression contributes to a greater risk of heart disease, happiness seems to reduce it. Build stronger relationships with those you love and laugh often. Use your newfound health, wellness, and stamina to give back and forge deeper roots in your community.

The YMCA of Central Florida is a mission-driven organization committed to improving the lives of all through a focus on Youth Development, Healthy Living and Social Responsibility.