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Making heart healthy choices

In 2009, 27.7 percent of deaths in Crow Wing County were from cardiovascular diseases, including strokes.

Statewide, there were 10,295 deaths that year for cardiovascular diseases. The American Heart Association reports an estimated 82.6 million American — that’s one in three — adults have one or more types of cardiovascular disease.

It’s hard to argue with a goal of living a healthier lifestyle.

It’s the getting there that’s hard.

Obstacles for healthy living come in time and knowledge. Our lives seem more hectic than ever before. A balance between work and home may never have been more difficult to achieve.

While we are pulled in many directions, it’s often hard to make our own health a priority, but the payoff on all fronts both at work and at home is evident.

Heart disease is the number one killer of men and women. But it’s also something people have control over in at least some respects. You can’t change your DNA, but you can alter your habits.

The good news is you can start small. Just start. And then build on that foundation.

The American Heart Association reports 68 percent of Americans age 20 and older are either overweight or obese. One in three American children are in that same category, nearly triple the rate in 1963.

Diet and inactivity are major players. With all kinds of diet and food plans out there, the heart experts say one thing that is effective is adding in exercise — at least an hour a day if a goal is to lose weight. It doesn’t have to all happen at one time.

As for food, limiting the “bad fats” is another key. Bad fats are saturated and trans fats. Saturated fat is solid at room temperature like butter or lard and trans fat is naturally present in small amounts in animal products or partially hydrogenated vegetable oils. Trans fat is used in processed foods to increase shelf life but it’s known to increase total cholesterol and bad cholesterol and lower good cholesterol. High cholesterol is a major risk factor for heart disease. But there are ways to make better eating choices to help reduce that risk.

Not all fat is equal. Good fats are monounsaturated fat like olive or canola oil and polyunsaturated fat with Omega 3 and 6 fatty acids. Monounsaturated fats lower bad cholesterol and may increase the good version.

So how do you add the good bits to your diet. It may be simpler than you think.

• Add nuts like walnuts to a salad or that breakfast oatmeal, add cashews or peanuts to stir fry, or almonds to green beans. Make your own trail mix with pretzels, dry cereal, dried fruit and nuts. Be mindful of serving sizes as nuts, while they can lower the risk of heart disease, they can have higher calories. Twenty-two almonds have 169 calories.

• Eat more fruits and vegetables.

• Read labels so you know what you are getting, what the serving size really is and how much “bad” fat is present. You may find this will change a few of your choices. Knowledge here can translate to changes in what you eat for chips, or whether that afternoon snack includes a candy bar.

A group of lakes area residents is on this heart-healthy journey.

The American Heart Association’s Go Red for Women campaign is on a mission to fight heart disease in women. But the campaign’s message isn’t limited to women. The American Heart Association, in partnership with the Brainerd Lakes Heart and Vascular Center at Essentia Health - St. Joseph’s Medical Center in Brainerd put together a team of regular residents, both men and women, for its first Go Red Better U Heart Health Challenge.

Anyone can take on this 12-week heart healthy challenge by going online to

The next lakes area BetterU session is Shopping Smart, a grocery tour with dietitian Teresa Farrell, scheduled from 6:30 p.m. to 8 p.m.

Tuesday, May 15, at the Brainerd Cub Foods. It’s open to the public.

Keep up with the Better U team on Facebook at

RENEE RICHARDSON, senior reporter, may be reached at 855-5852 or Follow on Twitter at

Renee Richardson
Richardson is a Pacelli High School graduate from Austin, Minn., who earned an applied science degree from the University of Minnesota, Waseca, with an emphasis in horse management. She worked extensively in the resort industry. She received an associate’s degree from Central Lakes College, where she was editor of the Westbank Journal student newspaper, as well as a summer intern at the Dispatch. She graduated from St. Cloud State University summa cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in mass communications and interned at the St. Cloud Times covering business while attending SCSU. She's been with the Brainerd Dispatch since 1996.
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