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Heart Healthy Habits Pay Off In Long Run
By Allison Powe
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Most Americans have heard the staggering statistics about heart disease, but when it comes to changing unhealthy habits, many people have trouble.
In 1995, about 45 percent of the deaths in Mississippi were due to cardiovascular diseases, which include heart attacks and strokes, said Dr. Melissa Mixon, extension human nutrition specialist at Mississippi State University.
But Mississippians are not doomed to heart disease. Risks can be significantly decreased by leading heart healthy lifestyles.
"If your family is genetically inclined to heart disease or if you have a gender disadvantage (males are at greater risk than females), there is nothing you can do about that, but it is important to concentrate on risk factors you can control," Mixon said.
"Prevention is the key to reducing incidents of heart disease and associated deaths," she said. "For many people, preventing heart disease will require a change in their lifestyles."
Mixon said the way to reduce heart disease is to target younger generations and teach them heart healthy habits. Breaking long-time habits can be extremely difficult. For adults who are putting themselves at high risks for heart diseases, self-discipline is the only way to reduce their risks.
"Physical fitness plays a big role in a heart healthy lifestyle," Mixon said. "But Mississippi is leading the nation in physical inactivity, and it has one of the highest percentages of obesity in the country."
Virtually any physical activity is good to add to a routine. Walking for at least 30 minutes and doing another form of aerobic activity for 30 to 60 minutes a few times a week is a good way to get the exercise needed to reduce heart disease.
"The more exercise you get, the better off you are. Start gradually, and set your own personal goals," Mixon said.
"Make exercise fun so you don't get discouraged. Bicycle riding, gardening and even cleaning the house can be physically beneficial. When you go out, choose dancing or bowling instead of watching a movie," she said.
Healthy diets are essential for reducing heart disease risks. And the good news is that you don't have to replace your favorite foods with flavorless foods.
"All foods can play a part in a heart healthy diet," Mixon said. "The trick is not to consume some foods in as great amounts or as often as others."
Some tips for eating healthier include decreasing the amount of fried foods, selecting lean cuts of meat and trimming visible fat, removing skin from poultry, using low-fat dairy products and adding more spices instead of butter or margarine when preparing foods.
Smoking significantly increases an individual's risk of heart attack. However, if a smoker quits the bad habit, their heart disease risk will gradually decrease to the level of a nonsmoker.
"High risks for heart disease caused by unhealthy habits can be reversed," Mixon said. "Changing your lifestyle may be difficult, but the benefits are well worth it."