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  • Tara Albright DPT

Heart Health Awareness Month

Updated: May 5, 2021

February is always

known as Heart Month, and it is not just because of Valentine’s day. The American Heart Association began Heart Health Month in 1963 to encourage Americans to take control of their health and assist in preventing a very troubling disease. Times have changed and research has lead us down many paths to achieve this. Check out the recent research and see what has changed and what has remained the same. The best weapon is knowledge.

Dietary Recommendations

Diet is often the biggest pressed upon issue that people are told to address to help prevent CVD, however the normal model of diet for prevention of CVD has shifted some in the past few years. The old way used to highlight reducing “bad cholesterol” (LDL) levels as the main focus. This has since been debunked with a review done in late 2016, which showed that actually low LDL levels have a higher link with mortality than having high LDL levels. This does not mean that you should go crazy on your cholesterol intake, but instead opens up the conversation about the importance of a well-rounded diet to prevent multiple diseases.

The diet with the most recent research is the Mediterranean Diet. The Mediterranean diet is comprised mainly of a “plant-based” diet. Half your calories you consume should come from vegetables and some fruits. This diet also focuses on good quality meat products with a large emphasis on fish, such as Salmon and Tuna, as well as high quality poultry products, while limiting red meat to 2x/wk (ideally grass-fed/organic). Diary should be limited to 1-2 servings/day. Whole grains should make up about another 1/8 or so of your calories. Of course, sugar should be avoided as much as possible and limited to 1-2x/week at the most. The other big focus of this diet is its emphasis on cooking with extra virgin olive oil as the main fat source. These recommendations have demonstrated a decrease in CVD health and an overall improvement of general health.

Exercise Recommendations

The exercise recommendations have also shifted over the years, with the old model emphasizing just aerobic activity of 30 minutes straight, at least 5 times a week.

These recommendations have since been updated to encourage people to get a total of 30 minutes of moderate exercise at least 5 times a week, but states there is still benefit if these workout sessions are broken into 10-15 minutes increments throughout the day.

The recommendations have also changed to include 20-30 minutes of vigorous activity at least 3 days a week, if you prefer more vigorous exercise as your exercise of choice.

Limit of Alcohol Intake

This has always been highlighted as another big prevention mechanism, but has come with some confusion with the big “Red Wine is good for your heart” push. So let’s clarify.

Alcohol in and of itself has been shown to increase heart rate, increases BP, weakens heart muscles, and can lead to an irregular heart rhythm. That is why it has always been recommended to limit alcohol intake as part of a preventative mechanism for CVD. These recommendations are no more than 2 drinks per day for men, and no more than 1 drink per day for women.

The confusion has occurred because a study showing that the antioxidants in wine can help lower your risk of CVD. The consumption of antioxidants in general can lower your risk of disease and there are many sources of antioxidants that do not also have side effects as mentioned above. The American Heart Association recently made an update to their Alcohol policy stating that the risk associated with alcohol far outweigh the benefits of the antioxidants that can be found in red wine, especially because there are safer foods to ingest with higher levels of antioxidants such as blueberries, walnuts, strawberries, pecans, and artichokes.

The best option is to limit your alcohol intake to 1-2 drinks/day in order to prevent CVD.

Don’t Smoke

There has been absolutely no shift or waiver in this recommendation, the only recent changes seem to be the newer things coming out on the market such as vaping and e-cigarettes.

These are also recommended to be avoided in order to prevent CVD. The main reason is that these products are not well regulated and if the company cannot really tell you what is in their product and the effects that it may have on your body it is always best to avoid it.

Manage Stress

This continues to be shown to help with CVD prevention, but often is the hardest to adhere to because of LIFE! Often, we don’t go looking for stress, but somehow it makes its’ way into our path and is unavoidable, frustrating, and exhausting.

The best defense is a good offense. Having a game plan when stress does show up, is the best plan of action. If you already have a set way to manage stress this should give you a head start. Some people exercise, others read, others meditate, and some just take a hot bath. All of these are good ways to help alleviate and manage stress. The main thing is picking what is relaxing and stress relieving for YOU! We are all different and what works for some may not for others, try to find your stress outlet and stick with it.

Physical Therapy’s Role in CVD Prevention

The American Heart Association has named physical therapists as one of the front line practitioners when it comes to cardiovascular disease prevention and with what we have gone over so far in this blog, it just makes sense.

Physical therapy is designed to meet patients where they are, with their health and injuries, and offer a personalized exercise program to improve the patient’s health and well-being, this includes CVD preventions. There has also been a recent shift in physical therapy training, with more advanced training in diet and nutrition being offered to assist physical therapists with a more well-rounded approach to health and healing. We have two physical therapists in our practice who have attained certification in this area and are eager to help their patients with all their health needs.

Hopefully, all this information it has left your heart and mind full and ready to conquer the world, or at least prevent a very detrimental and harmful disease like CVD. If you are currently struggling to start an exercise program or regimen due to injury, lack of mobility, or even lack of understanding, please give us a call today and see how we can help. We would love to assist you to a healthy and more pain free life.

***Information compiled from,, and

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