Taking Care of Your Heart

February is the month we all focus on the heart and LOVE!  Taking care of your heart definitely involves more than just seeking medical treatment, although that is an important part of staying healthy.

This month we focus on different ways to keep your heart healthy.

Week Four - Connection Between Giving and Heart Health  

Giving Doesn’t Just Help You – It Helps Your Heart as Well 

Gives You a Sense of Purpose – When you give your time, energy or money, you feel a greater sense of purpose.  Having a sense of purpose is important for your well-being.  Numerous studies have shown a link between a high sense of purpose and better cardiovascular health.  One study suggested a 23% reduction in death from heart attacks and strokes.

Volunteering Keeps You Active and Healthier – Staying active is good for your mind and body.  The majority of people who volunteer say that they feel healthier as a result.  Lots of volunteer roles require that you get up and get out of the house.  Having somewhere to be and someone counting on you is a great motivator.  

Volunteering is Social – Many volunteer opportunities involve interacting with others which contributes to social engagement.  This benefits the recipient as well as the volunteer.  One of our More Than a Meal volunteers shared that a client refers to her as his “Friday girl”.  Sharing a smile and a few words with him when delivering his meal “just makes my heart happy”, she said.  

Giving is Local, National and Universal – Individuals who give contribute to the success of organizations in their local community, nationally and even worldwide.  Donors and volunteers are found everywhere and connect with and engage with organizations that need and benefit from their contributions.  All volunteers help themselves by helping others and make a difference wherever they are.

Learn more ways to have a positive impact by giving and volunteering with NARCOG.

Week Three - Mental Health and the Heart

People experiencing depression, anxiety, stress, and even PTSD over a long period of time may experience certain physiologic effects on the body, such as increased cardiac reactivity (e.g., increased heart rate and blood pressure), reduced blood flow to the heart, and heightened levels of cortisol.

Read more from the CDC about heart disease and mental health.

Read more from heart.org on the link between mental health and heart health.

Read more from the Alabama Apart Together project.

Mental Health is Essential

Week Two - Heart Healthy Foods

When it comes to your heart, what you eat matters. Follow these tips for heart-healthy eating from the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion:

  1. Eat less saturated fats. Cut back on fatty meats and high-fat dairy products. Limit food like pizza, burgers, and creamy sauces or gravy.
  2. Cut down on sodium (salt). Read the Nutrition Facts label and choose foods that are lower in sodium. Look for the low-sodium or “no salt added” types of canned soups, vegetables, packaged meals, snack foods, and lunch meats.
  3. Get more fiber. Eat vegetables, fruits, beans, and whole grains to add fiber to your diet.

Take this list with you the next time you go food shopping.

Vegetables and Fruits

Eat a variety of vegetables and fruits. Buy vegetables and fruits that are fresh, frozen, canned, or dried.

  • Fresh vegetables like tomatoes, cabbage, and carrots
  • Leafy greens for salads, like Romaine lettuce, spinach, and kale
  • Canned vegetables that are low in sodium
  • Frozen vegetables without added butter or sauces, like broccoli or cauliflower
  • Fresh fruits such as apples, oranges, bananas, pears, and peaches
  • Canned, frozen, or dried fruit without added sugars

Farmers markets are great places to buy vegetables and fruits that are in season. Search for a market near you. Call NARCOG at 256-355-4515 if you would like to apply for the Senior Farmers Market Nutrition Program ($30 in vegetable vouchers).  This program is available for those 60 and older that meet program guidelines.


Look for fat-free or low-fat options.

  • Fat-free or low-fat (1%) milk
  • Fat-free or low-fat plain yogurt
  • Fat-free or low-fat cheese
  • Fat-free or low-fat cottage cheese
  • Soymilk with added calcium, vitamin A, and vitamin D

Breads, Cereals, and Other Grains

For products with more than 1 ingredient, make sure whole wheat or another whole grain is listed first in the ingredient list. Look for products that say 100% whole grain.

  • Whole-grain bread, bagels, English muffins, and tortillas
  • Whole-grain hot or cold breakfast cereals with no added sugar, like oatmeal or shredded wheat
  • Whole grains, like brown or wild rice, quinoa, or oats
  • Whole-wheat or whole-grain pasta and couscous

Protein Foods

Choose a variety of foods with protein.

  • Seafood: fish and shellfish
  • Poultry: chicken or turkey breast without skin, lean ground chicken or turkey (at least 93% lean)
  • Pork: leg, shoulder, or tenderloin
  • Beef: round, sirloin, tenderloin, or lean ground beef (at least 93% lean)
  • Beans and peas, like kidney beans, pinto beans, black beans, lima beans, black-eyed peas, garbanzo beans (chickpeas), split peas, and lentils
  • Eggs
  • Unsalted nuts and seeds
  • Nut butters, like almond or peanut butter
  • Tofu

Fats and Oils

Cut back on saturated fat and look for products with no trans fats. Choose foods with unsaturated fats like seafood, nuts, seeds, avocados, and oils.

  • Margarine and spreads (soft, tub, or liquid) with no trans fats and less saturated fats than butter
  • Vegetable oil (canola, corn, olive, peanut, safflower, soybean, or sunflower)
  • Non-stick cooking spray
  • Lower-calorie mayonnaise
  • Salad dressings that are oil based

Avoid coconut, palm kernel, and palm oils, which are all high in saturated fat.

Need some recipes?  Find Live Well Recipes from the Alabama Cooperative Extension System here.

Week One - Preventive Services 

Take advantage of preventive services offered through your health plan.  Are you up-to-date on your preventive services? Use this checklist for services covered by Medicare, including cardiovascular screenings. Our SHIP program can help you better understand all of your Medicare benefits.




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